Nationwide initiative to help military students got its start at ODU

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With four kids to worry about, deployments can be difficult for military moms like Amanda Bell.

“Our middle child, she has a hard time with her daddy being gone,” said Bell. “Her behavior, her mood…she gets really depressed.”

With her husband set to head out to sea again next year, it will be the first time her daughter Lauren will be of school age.

“I’m worried about her grades and behavior in school,” said Bell.

Now students like Lauren will hopefully be helped by “Operation: Educate the Educators,” launched nationwide today by the First and Second Ladies of the United States.

Soon to be in 100 colleges nationwide, the idea for the program actually started at Old Dominion University.

“It’s very exciting, the prospect that we can be used as a model,” said Dr. Joanna Garner, a research assistant professor with The Center for Educational Partnerships in the Darden College of Education at ODU.

Their research found that even teachers in large military areas like Hampton Roads felt unprepared to deal with the needs of military students.

“We found that sometimes teachers didn’t even know who the military connected students were,” said Dr. Garner. “They were also having issues with records of these students, students are moving across the country, sometimes even across the world, and third grade in Virginia Beach may be different than third grade in San Diego.”

So ODU launched the TEAMS initiative which stands for Teaching, Education, and Awareness for Military-connected Students.

Seven Newport News schools are now getting specialized training for their teachers, so they can better respond to the academic, social and emotional needs of military students.

The program will soon be launching in the spring in Virginia Beach Public Schools as well.

“We need to understand the strengths those children bring to the classroom as well as watching out for signs that they are experiencing some stress,” said Dr. Garner.

After Dr. Jill Biden visited Newport News City Schools in April, she saw the application of the ODU program firsthand and used it to help shape her nationwide initiative.

“Military families contribute a great deal in society, they make such sacrifices in service of our country, and it’s just fabulous that we get to be a part of helping them, and helping their kids to do the best they can in schools,” said Dr. Garner.

The benefits can't come soon enough for parents like Amanda Bell.

“I hope it brings positive awareness for these children,” said Bell. “The military children deserve it.”