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AMERICAN GRADUATE: UNF Workshop Helps Teachers Work With Military Kids

U.S. Air Force

Jacksonville is a military-friendly town with three Navy bases a Coast Guard station and numerous National Guard centers.

It was only four years ago that the military began working with the Duval County public schools through its School Liaison Officer Initiative to address the needs and concerns of military kids.

Dawn Kaunike set up the program at 14 of the Navy’s 17 bases in the Southeast.

Kaunike was a military brat and later a military spouse, so when she says military kids have a lot to deal with, she’s speaking from experience.

“I remember as a kid, you know your household goods wouldn’t show up for three or four weeks and you’re living with a hot plate and making due,” she said.

Then there are the deployments of one or, today, both parents to danger zones half-way around the globe.

Caitlin Hayes grew up a Navy brat.  At 27, she still gets teary-eyed when she talks about her dad’s absences.

“He would be gone for six months and then come home and then go back out pretty quickly so he was gone quite a lot," she said. "I was getting emotional earlier when they were talking about deployment and I was like, 'don’t start crying.'”

Hayes is in her senior year at the University of North Florida where she’s studying to be a high school teacher. Last Friday, she and more than a hundred other student teachers attended a professional development workshop at UNF called "Working with Military Children and Families."

The day-long seminar was the brain child of Marsha Lupi, associate dean of UNF’s College of Education.

“The idea just really germinated from students I had in my class who were former military who started talking about their experiences in schools and they said they just wished the teachers had more knowledge about the military life," she said.

One way of driving home the transient nature of that life was to randomly give one student-teacher at each table an envelope that said, basically, gather up all your stuff right now and move to another table.  

“They’re moving from one place to another place and so they don’t have the opportunity to establish the kind of relationships that they might like to establish.  The make friends and then they’re uprooted and go somewhere else,” explained Lupi.

Cathy Ann O’Farrell, UNF’s Director of Clinical Field Experiences, helped put together the seminar.     

“This is such a unique opportunity to address a population of students that are silent, almost within our community,  and I think that when you find out the number of students that are in this area that are somehow affiliated with the military, that the numbers are staggering,” she said.

And their problems can be equally staggering, says School Liaison Officer Dawn Kaunike. She gave the example of a student who came to the Florida Panhandle from Alaska.

“It was their senior year, second semester and the child wasn’t going to graduate because they didn’t meet the requirements of Florida,” she said.

Enter the School Liaison Officer who, she says, worked out a deal between the high school in Alaska and the one in Florida.

“And so, when the child graduated, he walked with the class in Florida but he was actually getting a diploma from the high school he left,” Kaunike said.

Kaunike said the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children was created to keep things like this from happening.  Only not everyone knows it exists. 

That’s why School Liaison Officers are so important, and why being able to tell the future  teachers at UNF about this and other education resources for military families is so critical.

89.9 WJCT is participating in the American Graduate project supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  The goal of American Graduate is to reverse the national drop out crisis by identifying and then addressing the factors that cause students to leave school early.