Highlights From the MCEC 17th National Training Seminar
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter addressed attendees of the annual Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) National Training Seminar on July 31 to discuss challenges facing military-connected children.
Carter stressed the importance of working with groups such as the Military Child Education Coalition to push progress in the realm of public schools since more than 90 percent of military children attend public schools.
To that end, the DoD is creating a military dependent student identifier, which allows parents, educators and schools to track performance, funnel resources and make smart policy decisions on behalf of military children over the span of their educational careers.
“If we know how particular groups of kids are performing, we can better target resources to maximize their success,” Carter said.
Other creative outreach efforts include the competitive educational partnership grant program, in which funds go toward local schools with 15 percent or greater military child enrollment.
“Those funds recently paid for a [science, technology and engineering and mathematics] partnership that helped more than 10,000 high school students earn AP exam scores that qualified them for college credit,” the secretary said. “That’s an incredible return on investment.”
This year’s round of educational partnership grant program funding totals $52 million, the secretary said.
Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer, who was a military child himself, spoke on the importance of education, especially for those who may be growing up in underprivileged communities.
“I grew up here in southeast D.C. My father was in the Army, and my mother hadn’t graduated high school,” the general said. “I was the oldest of six children, and I didn’t understand the importance of education.” He said he was focused on football and girls but after graduating high school, he joined the Air Force and began to understand the value of education.
“Once I got into the Air Force, I started to mature and see how important education and technology was and how crucial it was to our warfighting capability,” he said. “I started to take any class I could get my hands on.”
He said he recently went back to his old neighborhood, and many of his friends are either in jail or no longer living. He said he may have never left the neighborhood had it not been for the Air Force and for his education.
“I’m not any smarter than they were, but I got my education, and I got to learn, and I got to travel,” he said. “Education is a big equalizer. It doesn’t matter where you come from. It doesn’t matter what advantages or disadvantages you have. If you can get your hands on education, it is the equalizer that can put you on the path to achieve anything you want to achieve.”
Five students from across the country had the chance to ask Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and his wife, Deanie, questions during the MCEC National Training Seminar.
The five students were chosen because of their involvement with the Military Child Education Coalition Student 2 Student program. The program is a student-led organization that welcomes incoming students to new schools and helps departing students prepare for their next school. The average military-connected student moves six to nine times between kindergarten and high school. Students faced with frequent moves must constantly integrate into a new educational system, a new community and find new friends.
Learn more about the Student 2 Student program here.
Defense Department senior leaders met with educators to answer questions and discuss the importance of education for military children. All of the commanders said their respective service branches were protecting the military child services from the budget cuts.
“The chief of naval operations has said we’re not going to touch the child development centers or our youth programs; those are fenced,” said Navy Vice Adm. Dixon R. Smith, commander of Navy Installation Command. “We’re protecting those, and they’re funded because we understand the importance of taking care of our children and families.”
“Family is part of readiness, and we have to have that balance between mission, family and our community,” said Army Lt. Gen. David D. Halverson, commander of the Army’s Installation Management Command. “Funding is non-negotiable. It’s really important that we commit to that family readiness.”
Dr. Mary M. Keller, MCEC president and CEO, said the organization serves about 4 million children ranging from newborn through age 23, and roughly half of those have a parent currently serving on active duty, or in the National Guard or reserves. In that group, she added, are some 1.2 million school-aged children.
Keller said transitions and separations are the most prominent challenges unique to military children.
“Kids tell us, ‘Gone is gone,’” she said. “So if mom or dad are gone for training or they’re deployed, whatever it is, that’s a separation from a child, and it means a missed birthday, but it also means that parent has a challenge in staying as connected to school as they would like to … so that whole education continuum is different for military kids.”
According to Keller, children who have active-duty military parents tend to move about three times more often than their civilian classmates.
“That translates into six to nine different schools from kindergarten until they graduate from high school,” Keller said.
Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Command, acknowledged that while being a military child affords uncommon opportunities to travel and experience other cultures, it also poses unique challenges, which fall not only on service member parents, but upon educators and support networks.
“Children of military parents repeatedly face the challenges of engagement, disengagement, and reengagement as they move to new schools every two or three years,” Harris said.
“It’s no surprise that studies have shown that children of military parents are often more vulnerable to fear and anxiety, and that those stressors manifest themselves behaviorally and academically,” the admiral said.
Harris elaborated on inherent challenges that much-traveled military children face, such as delayed school enrollment, inappropriate grade-level placement, exclusion from educational programs and extracurricular activities, and delayed graduation.
“Our educational system simply isn’t designed, much to its discredit, to support the lifestyle that accompanies a career of service,” he said.