YUMA, Ariz. --
Today's military children face many obstacles in their life. Frequent changes to their geographic location, social circles and family structure can make their personal development more challenging than the average students.
As part of the “Strong Start, Bright Future” annual back-to-school bus tour, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan participated in a town hall meeting at the base chapel at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., Thursday, in order to address the challenges military students face and reaffirm the importance of their educational stability.
"It isn’t often that we get the opportunity to talk with our educational leadership here in town like this," said Col. Robert Kuckuk, the Commanding Officer of MCAS Yuma, who welcomed the families and served as the moderator throughout the evenings proceedings.
With a crowd of roughly a hundred in attendance, including military families and local education officials, the town hall meeting kicked off with introductions and some words of appreciation from the panel for the sacrifice made by military families. The panel of guests included Yuma County superintendent Tom Tyree, Yuma Union High School District superintendent Antonia Badone, Crane School District superintendent Robert Klee, Yuma Elementary School District One superintendent Darwin Stiffler, and U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground Commander, Col. Reed Young,.
Opening remarks by special guest speaker Abagail Smith, a senior at Gila Ridge High School, drove home the realities of what military children face each and every day. Abagail, the child of 2 Marine Corps Staff Sergeants, touched on being uprooted repeatedly from familiar surroundings and how deployments impacted the home-life of her family.
"The children of military families face challenges that children in the civilian sector don't necessarily face on a daily basis," said Elena McShane, the MCAS Yuma school liaison and a native of San Jose, Calif. "Military children are constantly exposed to deployments, transitions, and family separations."
The question and answer session led Secretary Duncan to discuss the importance of federal funding, its impact on the community and the need to keep partisan politics out of the equation with respect to the future of Yuma’s educational system.
“When you have a military community and Native American reservations, two populations that deserve the best and need the best, with a significant reliance on impact aid – to see sequestration take those scarce resources away is absolute nonsense, absolutely infuriating,” said Duncan. “I keep pushing folks in Congress on both sides of the aisle to get out of Washington and spend time in real communities and see what the impact of their dysfunction has on kids.”
For the children of service members, relocating duty stations always means having to adapt to different school district standards. Moving as often as every three years can make it difficult for military kids to get adjusted at any school. Add in the stress of meeting graduation requirements and carrying non-transferrable credits, and the education system can look like a mine field of obstacles.
To combat those challenges, the common core initiative was highlighted by panel members. The initiative creates a standard which focuses on college preparedness and career readiness for students on a nationally-recognized level.
“I’ve been a professional educator now for almost 40 years and I’ve seen many different initiatives come and go. Obviously, common core is one of the most significant changes that we’re going to make in our educational systems,” said Klee. “The common core standards are a national curriculum that can be extremely beneficial to students like Abagail who have to move from one location to another location.”
Questions from the audience also raised concerns of the effects sequestration has had on the education system. Lance Cpl. Timothy Hammond, an administrations clerk with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, asked about the possible neglect of physical education.
"I want to be a PE teacher some day and, when I was a kid, PE was a mandated part of the curriculum," said Hammond, a native of Renton, Seattle. “I wish PE was a class a kid couldn’t waive; I wish it had a standardized curriculum. I coach Pop Warner football out in town and we have a kid who couldn't do a push up because nobody ever taught him how.”
The quality of education the children of military families receive was the main concern of the evening’s town hall. Concerns, progress and common obstacles military children have had to endure were out in the open for everyone in attendance to discuss.
“I really want our parents to be really proactive in the children’s education. I want them to know it’s OK to ask questions, to contact teachers and seek out resources that are available to them,” added McShane. “I would like to thank the Secretary of Education for choosing MCAS Yuma to visit, specifically. He’s a really busy person, and could have totally bypassed Yuma and gone straight to California; but instead he chose to visit here and show that he really does care about our military families and the future education of our military children.”