USC University of Southern California

Building Capacity and Welcoming Practices In Military-Connected Schools

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Military-connected students confront numerous challenges, especially in light of the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These students face repeated geographic relocations, parental deployments, and changes in household roles and responsibilities. While many military-connected students are resilient, others experience adverse mental health, social, and academic outcomes. Additionally, military children represent a growing student population. Approximately two million military children are now enrolled in civilian public school districts. Furthermore, nearly 250 civilian public school districts are located near United States military bases.

Recent studies have shown that supportive schools shield students from many of the effects of alienation, depression, and failure. Civilian school personnel need training to address school climate issues that would ease challenges military-connected students face. The Building Capacity project is based on a model implemented successfully throughout Israel. The initiative is a consortium of eight military-connected districts (which includes approximately 117,000 students, 10.1% of whom are military), the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), and the University of Southern California (USC). The project is identifying and providing supports for military-connected students by creating appropriate evidence-based programs, and assisting the districts with implementation. Support includes 72,000 contact hours from a cadre of Master of Social Work interns and their mentors. Additionally, resource manuals to support implementation and focus on best practices have been developed and will be disseminated through Teachers College Press.

Furthermore, researchers from the Building Capacity project have supplemented the California Healthy Kids Survey with a Military Module. The military module allows schools to gather specific data from students, parents, teachers, and administrators about the needs and circumstances of military families. The data is being used to establish sustainable military-friendly school climates that improve students’ social, behavioral, and academic outcomes. Professional development and training of school personnel is also occurring. For instance, graduate-level social workers are receiving training on how to work with military-connected schools and students. USC will create interactive online modules of professional development that will be available for future training. Additionally, USC will develop a degree-bearing program in social work that directly supports military-connected schools and communities. Building Capacity’s intent is to replicate this model throughout California and the nation.