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Fort Belvoir families seek more support for children of military service members

Fort Belvoir second-grader Victor Oto shares a book he made in class with Jill Biden, who visited the elementary school June 22 to discuss issues facing the children of service members.
Fort Belvoir second-grader Victor Oto shares a book he made in class with Jill Biden, who visited the elementary school June 22 to discuss issues facing the children of service members. (Holly Hobbs/fairfax County Times)

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By Holly Hobbs
Fairfax County Times
Thursday, July 1, 2010

Children of military service members face unusual challenges.

Frequent transfers to new schools, sometimes in the middle of the year, and the deployment overseas of a parent for months at a time can cause disruptions and problems at school, parents said.

Such problems are familiar to Fort Belvoir Elementary School students -- 98 percent of whom are the children of military service members stationed at the U.S. Army base in southeastern Fairfax County.

"Our children are impacted while we're gone," said active duty Coast Guard officer Michael Franson, one of about a dozen parents who met June 22 with Vice President Biden's wife, Jill Biden, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and high-ranking military officials for talks about issues facing the children of service members.

Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey also attended the meeting.

"My daughter was definitely lagging [behind] in school work while I was gone," said Franson, who added that more money and training for teachers was needed to address problems facing children of service members.

"I know how challenging life can be for you and your families," Biden said. "Sometimes you have to uproot your families in the middle of the school year."

College education courses for would-be teachers should include more training on military family sensitivity, she said.

Parent Renae Robinson, whose naval spouse is deployed, said schools should do more to reach out to parents and know which children's parents are serving abroad.

"I think it should be mandatory that the parents tell the school the active-duty parent is deployed," she said, adding that more consistency between school systems and states would be helpful when students must transfer when their parents are reassigned.

The transfer rate of students at Fort Belvoir Elementary is more than double the county average, according to school system. About 32 percent of Fort Belvoir Elementary's student population changes each year.

Parents offered such suggestions as limiting transfers to summer and creating a smoother state-to-state enrollment process for students.


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