Through the Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students program, IES supports research to improve the education outcomes of students who face social/behavioral and academic challenges because they frequently move from school to school due to changes in residence and/or unstable living arrangements. This category of students, typically referred to as highly-mobile students, includes students who are homeless, in foster care, from migrant backgrounds, or military-connected. In this guest blog, Timothy Cavell, PhD, University of Arkansas and Renée Spencer, EdD, Boston University discuss their IES-funded research on military-connected students.
Why study military-connected students?
Virtually every school district in the United States educates a child whose parent or guardian is serving in the Armed Forces. Supported by two separate IES awards, our team of researchers is working to understand how schools can better serve military students and their families. Our work focuses specifically on students who have at least one parent/guardian on active (full-time) duty in the U.S. military. We refer to these students as military-connected. Their lives are typified by transition and often entail tremendous sacrifice. For some, the challenges involve a parent deployed into combat or a parent returning from combat. For many others, the challenges are tied to the frequent transitions (e.g., permanent changes of station, temporary duty assignments) required of military families. Our IES-funded research specifically works with military-connected students within the North Thurston Public Schools (NTPS), a school district in Lacey, Washington, about 15 miles southwest of Joint (Army/Air Force) Base Lewis-McChord.
How does your research address the needs of military-connected students?
The Military Student Mentoring (MSM) project which began 4 years ago, is an effort to develop and test the benefits of school-based mentoring for military students. We reasoned that school-based mentoring was a measured response to the needs of students who are often quite resilient but who, at times, might need extra support. A key component of the intervention was developing a mentoring-delivery system anchored by a district-level MSM Coordinator who forged home-school-community (HSC) Action Teams comprised of school staff (e.g., school counselor), military parents, and community leaders. Together, the MSM Coordinator and HSC Action Teams engaged military families, identified military students who might benefit from school-based mentoring, and recruited adult volunteers to serve as mentors. These volunteers were then screened, trained, and supported by a local Big Brothers Big Sisters agency. Preliminary findings from our initial launch and subsequent pilot study support the feasibility and usability of the MSM model and point to expected gains in students’ perceptions of support. Future steps involve efforts to making MSM more portable and self-sustaining and testing its efficacy more broadly.
Our second project, the Active-Duty Military Families and School Supports (ADMFSS) study, which was funded just this year, explores school supports for highly mobile military students. It is estimated that military students experience 6 to 9 moves during their K-12 years—a mobility rate three times that of non-military children. Most military families and students are resilient and weather these disruptions well, but some are negatively affected by the strain of multiple moves. Growing recognition of these stresses faced by military families has led to calls for schools to offer greater and more targeted support to these students.
We suspect that student mobility is not directly linked to educational outcomes; rather, repeated moves may strain families’ capacity to adjust to new communities and impede students’ ability to connect with yet another learning environment. Therefore, we will be exploring the role that school supports play in fostering military students’ sense of school connectedness. Broadly, the term school connectedness refers to students’ relationship with their school and the extent to which they feel accepted, respected, and supported by others in the school environment. Our basic premise is that high mobility can be harmful to military students’ educational outcomes when it undermines the degree to which they feel connected to school and to students and staff in their school. Supports provided by schools have the potential to buffer military students from the negative effects of high mobility on school connectedness, thereby reducing their risk for poor educational outcomes. Importantly, connectedness is an arena in which schools can take clear and effective action.
Through both of these projects, our ultimate goal is to learn enough to equip and guide other school districts that wish to serve those families who have served our country with courage and distinction.
Katina Stapleton is the program officer for the Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students research program.