To celebrate the month of the Military Child, Dr. Mary Keller, the President and CEO of the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) spoke with us about her own experiences as an educator, military spouse, mom and grandmother. Over our thirty minute chat, she also shared how all of us can better understand and support the military connected child.
Tutor.com: Did you grow up in a military family?
Dr. Keller: No, I didn’t grow up in a military family, I was a farm girl! My husband grew up in a military family and served during Vietnam so I was a military spouse and now my son is a Navy Reservist and I have three military connected grandchildren. People may not realize that some 40% of those who choose to join the military come from a military family. It’s a strong tradition.
Tutor.com: You’re certainly in a military family now. What do you wish more people knew about kids in military families?
Dr. Keller: That they are kids first. We have 2 million students in military connected families. 75% of these children are K-12 students. We should celebrate them as diverse Americans. Students are serving with their families in all branches of the military- Active Duty, National Guard and Reserves. Most people don’t realize that military connected kids are in just about every community and in every school district.
Tutor.com: In your professional life you are committed to helping military connected students through your leadership at MCEC. Based on your experiences, what do you think the number one issue is facing military kids?
Dr. Keller: The number one issue is to understand that military connected kids serve too. We need to stay attuned to the needs of our military kids and to those in Veteran families including our post 9-11 Veterans. Awareness and sensitivity to these families and their needs shouldn’t vacillate based on our foreign policies. If we want to keep a 100% voluntary military, then we need to pay attention to those who are serving for us.
At the same time, military connected kids are still just kids. They have the same opportunities to grow and thrive as any other child. The difference is that their family is a family of service. For the first time, we have many children living in families where both moms and dads are serving their country. Military families have so much to teach us all about resilience, service and selfless sacrifice. They are a great legacy for our country. While we appreciate the past, we also need to appreciate what is happening right now in the lives of our kids and their families.
Tutor.com: If awareness is the key problem, how do we address or fix this issue?
Dr. Keller: The Presidential Initiative Strengthening Our Military Families: Meeting America’s Commitment is a good start. At MCEC we are focused on providing professional development for educators, policy leaders and parents to help create an awareness in communities. We also involve the kids. Our Student2Student program operates at high schools and middle schools around the world to help create a climate of 100% acceptance within the school of military children. Both military connected and civilian students are active in this program. These are some of the ways we work to help people become aware and appreciative of the military family.
Tutor.com: How can more people get involved?
Dr. Keller: We encourage families to contact MCEC and we can help you get involved and show you the resources and tools we have developed. We also recommend contacting your PTA, local chamber of commerce, local veteran’s organization or military installation if you live near one. There are also online resources including serve.gov which is a great place to find ways to help out. It’s easier to help than people realize. You can use the skills and passions you already have to help military families in your community. And the best thing you can do is to simply ask the question “how can I help?”
Tutor.com: While military kids face a host of challenges, they also have some great benefits. What do you think the biggest perk of being in a military family is?
Dr. Keller: Military kids get to see the core values of selfless sacrifice and patriotism in real life. This is not an abstract concept to these kids – they really understand what service means. Military children volunteer at higher rates than their peers.
Many of these students move often and change schools. This can be a challenge but also an opportunity. Students have a deep appreciation for diversity since many live all over the world. They experience how military families take care of each other in a global community.
Tutor.com: Do you have a military child in your life that you consider a hero?
Dr. Keller: Oh, there’s too many! But, here’s one that is worth sharing. A few years ago a thirteen year old girl had a dad who was severely injured during a deployment. She took on a lot of responsibility in her house to help her dad and mom. She was having a tough time in high school and felt that other students didn’t understand what she was going through. A teacher helped get her involved with the MCEC Student2Student program. She was soon helping other military kids assimilate to the school. She’s a senior now and President of this particular Student2Student program along with another student who is a civilian. She credited the program with making a big difference in her life. She really understands what it means when peers have a parent come back from war altered and she’s using that experience to help other military-connected kids. Both she and the teacher who got involved are the heroes of that story.
Thanks to Dr. Mary Keller for her time and insights. If you’d like to learn more about MCEC, please go to www.militarychild.org. Want to share how you or your family support military children? Write a guest blog post for us! Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.