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Programs, people help military children adjust
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Anyone who has grown up as an “Army brat” or is an active-duty soldier with children realizes that military-dependent children — in a sense — serve along with their military family members.
Children in military families must often transition to new schools each time their mother or father is reassigned to a new post. And, with more frequent deployments, soldiers’ children must learn to cope with long separations.
It seems, however, that most children of military families in Liberty and Bryan counties are handling these challenges just fine.
This is likely due to the support local public school principals, counselors and teachers offer students connected to the military. Fort Stewart also has a number of support programs designed to ease the stress of soldiers’ children.
Bryan County Elementary School Principal Debbie Laing said teachers at her Pembroke school are always willing to work with parents of military children.
“We have little support groups through our school and our counselor will meet with them,” Laing said. “They can share the experiences that they’re feeling. Sometimes we’ll have our military dads and moms come and speak to our classes about what their jobs are. We also have a heroes’ wall, where our children can put their parents’ pictures up. We identify them as Suzy’s daddy, for example, and our students like that.  We know that sometimes children will start to act out, because they don’t understand a deployment. So we certainly work with our parents, too, to help them with their children.”
Lyman Hall Elementary School Principal Claire Blanchard, who grew up a military-dependent child and whose husband is retired military, said the changes military children experience is routine for her students. Lyman Hall is in Liberty County.
“Our counselor does some work with our children,” Blanchard said. “But we have so many children that come in throughout the year, it’s kind of the norm.”
Blanchard said she and many of her teachers sympathize with military students because a lot of educators also are connected to the military.
“We help each other out. It’s like a second home,” she said. “You just welcome the kids into the family and you keep on going.
“We have a lot of children who are military connected and a lot of children coming in from out of state,” said John Oliver, interim superintendent for Bryan County Schools. “We try to make it as easy for them coming into a new situation. Obviously, for many of them, this isn’t their first move.”
Oliver said the parents of military children tend to be “very involved” in their children’s education, and this helps smooth their students’ transition to a new school.
Richmond Hill High School ninth-grade counselor Dr. Linda Dugan, the spouse of an active-duty military member, said she and three other RHHS counselors make a point of easing military children’s adjustment periods.
“We try to pair them up (military connected students) and the students who have been here a while help show the new students around,” Dugan said. “For our incoming eighth-graders and our new students, we make them aware of all the athletics and academics that are available at the school.”
Dugan said counselors also encourage military parents to get involved with the high school so they can get to know people and create a support system, which comes in handy when a spouse or parent is deployed.
“It gives them an extended family,” she said.
Dugan said numerous services are available to students and their families, and that communication is a key component.
“We believe in communicating with parents even when they’re deployed,” she said.
Counselors and teachers can talk with soldier parents through e-mails and phone calls.
“For deployed parents especially, we have a ‘Power Parent’ program, whereby a parent can log on everyday and check on their student’s academics,” Dugan said. “And they can e-mail the teacher directly and communicate to the teacher as well.”
The RHHS counselor said Bryan County educators also work with Fort Stewart’s school liaison officers.
 “David Smith meets with us once a year to show us what programs are available and what services are out there on post and at Hunter (Army Air Field),” Dugan said.
David Smith, Youth Education Support Services director for Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Air Field, suggests parents in military families involve their children in constructive programs as soon as they arrive at a new duty station.
“The Army has a seamless program,” Smith said. “So when families go from one installation to another, they’ll see the same programs.”
For example, if a student is in band or the Boys & Girls Club when stationed in Germany, the parent can get their child involved in the same program at a new duty station when they arrive stateside,” he said.
“They can make friends and start the process of assimilating into that activity,” Smith said. “Another thing that helps is to get students involved in the youth sponsorship program.”
This program pairs students who have lived in the area for a while with incoming dependent children.
“The program provides monthly trips,” Smith said. These trips involve activities tailored to the area where the new duty station is located, he explained.
“On Sept. 12, we’ll go ‘Trawling on the Bull,’” Smith said. “The Bull River is on Wilmington Island. We pick up kids from Stewart and Hunter and we go to that activity area. The trip will give them an opportunity to learn about the intra-coastal and marine life. It’s educational and recreational.”
Smith said there are many organizations for children on post through Morale, Welfare and Recreations, as well as out in the community, such as church groups, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the YMCA and county and city recreation department sports and activities.
“If children are attending school on- or off-post, I encourage parents to be involved with their children’s education and to get their student involved in extracurricular activities in those schools,” he said.
Smith said military children cope best when they have good support systems, which includes having a strong family and being involved in school and the community.  Family Readiness Groups and post chaplains are also available to provide support for families, he added.
Smith stressed that children who keep a solid connection to a deployed parent are better able to handle long separations. A healthy bond can be maintained through various correspondences with the deployed parent, such as by sending e-mails, letters, videos and photographs, he suggested.
Smith said the parent who remains at home with the child can also establish new family routines while the military parent is deployed, and develop a support network and friendships with fellow military families.
Still, there is no substitute for giving a child attention, whether they’re dealing with a move to a new place or a parent who is deployed.
“Sometimes, a child just needs an adult to talk to, someone who is sensitive to their needs,” Smith said.
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