July | August 2017

by Cherise Imai
While communities recognize the important role of our active duty men and women, we must remember that families—spouses, and especially children—sacrifice as well. The month of April is celebrated as the Month of the Military Child, and the commission recognized “Purple Up! For Military Kids” on April 25, a day to celebrate military families. “By wearing purple, we recognize the service of our youngest heroes—military children,” said Rosemarie Kraeger, Rhode Island commissioner and district superintendent of Middletown Public Schools.
Established by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger in 1986, the designation of April as the Month of the Military Child acknowledges the significant role military youth play in our communities. Why purple? Purple is the color that symbolizes all branches of the military, as it is a combination of Army green, Marine red, and the blue of the Coast Guard, Air Force and Navy.
Over the past decade, the U.S. Department of Defense has focused on quality of life programs for service members and their families to enhance well-being and improve readiness and retention of today’s military force. Military life includes continual challenges for members and their families—from frequent moving to new duty stations to the absence of a parent. Relocations once every two to three years is part of their lifestyle, though transitions are never easy.
“We moved 22 times over 40 years,” said Holly Meyers Bednarek, a mom of four and spouse of a retired Army officer. “We never knew where we were going next, and moving was both stressful and an adventure at the same time.”
There are almost 2 million military-connected children that have an active duty or National Guard or Reserve parent. In 2015, there were 630,000 military dependents, ages 5 to 18, with more than 76 percent attending public schools. Military kids attend on average six to nine schools throughout their K–12 education. These frequent transitions result in encountering different school requirements from state to state and school district to school district. Differences in graduation requirements, kindergarten entry ages and grade point average calculations are encountered during moves, which can have an adverse impact on military students.
To help overcome transition issues, in 2006 the U.S. Department of Defense collaborated with The Council of State Governments to develop the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. A variety of federal, state and local officials, as well as national stakeholder organizations representing education, school districts and military families were included in the development. Available for legislative consideration in 2008, the compact was adopted in just six sessions and is the fourth in 50 years to have the membership of all 50 states.
The goal of the compact is to replace widely varying treatment of transitioning military students with a comprehensive approach that provides a uniform policy. However, there are limitations on what it covers. The compact is designed to resolve transition issues only and does not impact the quality of education, nor require a state to waive any of its state standards or exams. The compact provisions specifically provide flexibility and local discretion in course and program placement, and on-time graduation within the criteria established by the state. It also supports the opportunity to participate in extracur­ricular activities.
“My daughter arrived at her school after the new year had begun and they allowed her to try
out for cheerleading, although they had already completed (auditions) during the summer,” Bednarek said. “She earned a spot on the squad, which helped her to make new friends. Being a part of the school helped her gain confidence and transition quickly, which made it less stressful for me so I could focus on other things, like getting settled.”
The compact is managed by the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission, or MIC3, and each member state appoints a commissioner who oversees implementation in collaboration with their state council.
“We achieved our goal of securing the membership of 50 states and the District of Columbia and we found ourselves at a crossroads and asking what’s next?” said Kraeger, chairwoman of MIC3. Over the past year, the commission has focused on developing a mission, vision and strategic plan.
“We have a clear understanding and vision of our role and responsibilities, which will guide us in the way forward,” Kraeger said.
Commissioners have diverse skills and backgrounds and include attorneys, members of the business community, retired military and state and district educators. Their varied experiences enhance discussions on issues and help them effectively work individual cases.
One commonality they all share is commitment. “Our commissioners have a passion for what they do and a strong belief in doing the right thing for kids,” Kraeger said.
As an administrator with a career that spans more than 45 years, Kraeger knows first-hand about supporting children.
“The biggest challenge in serving military families is ensuring that every student feels welcomed, that their needs are being met and that we can connect them to the community so they may assimilate as quickly as possible,” she said.
Many military-impacted districts and schools have developed supports for transitioning
students that include: welcome and buddy programs, transition centers, new student programs and school tours for families.
“Schools are important in the transition process, and it was a more positive experience when they were welcoming and understood our challenges,” Bednarek said. All four of her children graduated from public schools and went on to attain college degrees.
Districts also organize events for new military families to support community connectivity.
The Rhode Island Naval Station Newport, in partnership with the Middletown School District and the Newport and Portsmouth Schools, sponsors a monthly “Circle of Friends” coffee hour.
“It’s an informal time for military spouses to become familiar with the area and talk with school staff on any concerns,” Kraeger said.
During the month of April, states celebrated “Purple Up! For Military Kids” events in their communities through state proclamations, celebrations, school district activities and events. “The recognition underlines the importance of helping students be successful—in college, career and their future,” Kraeger said, “and MIC3 remains committed to making a difference.”
About the Author
Cherise Imai is the new executive director of the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission , or MIC3, and was Military Liaison for the Hawaii State Department of Education. MIC3 is an affiliate of CSG. Learn more about MIC3 at www.mic3.net.