Military kids, teachers find back-to-school help online
Two of the middle-school boys in the focus group kept refilling their drinks. Others fidgeted. Chairs scraped and voices rose in multiple conversations. But when one boy said he was afraid that his father wouldn’t come home from his deployment, the room grew silent and the other boys focused on him.
“I heard about the fear directly from the little boy and I observed the immediate connection,” said psychologist Kelly Blasko, who led focus groups as the National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2) set out to create a website for military kids. “Our mission was clear: connect these children so they can support each other and not feel alone.”
Today, the T2 Military Kids Connect (MKC) website has received more than a quarter million hits since it launched in January 2012. Teen and tween avatars in camouflage gear share tips about coping with deployments, siblings or moving, and teen-created videos offer introductions to new military bases.
Frequent moves represent a big challenge for military kids. The National Military Family Association estimates the average military child moves six to nine times between kindergarten and high school. That can require social and academic adjustments, even for kids who did well in previous schools.
“(There might be) different academic standards from one state to another state or even one school district to another,” said psychologist Pam Murphy, who manages the MKC website.
With schools opening their doors this month and many military families in new locations, the site is a trusted resource to help kids feel more at ease when that first bell rings.
Teachers can also benefit from the site’s classroom resources, which include fact sheets about life in the military, lesson plans that introduce information familiar to military families, and interviews with kids about their parents’ deployments and any health challenges such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They can also explore sections for different age groups: 6- to 8-year-olds, tweens (age 9-12), and teens (age 13-17).
According to Murphy, when educators review the site they can learn more about what makes military kids’ lives unique.
Lesson plans highlight geographic areas where the parents of military kids are deployed, such as Afghanistan, Djibouti, Iraq, Panama, the Philippines and South Korea.
The site is updated frequently with new information. For example, “Tough Topics” contains videos to teach kids how to manage the realities of having a parent with PTSD or a serious physical injury. The page was created when moderators realized that the discussion boards rarely brought up these topics even though so many parents had sustained injuries.
“We knew it was important to include education about what PTSD is, how it can affect the family, and how to normalize their feelings,” said Blasko, T2 mobile web program lead. She knew they’d done it right from the positive comments kids posted after watching some of the videos.