JBER schools step up to support children of deployed service members
There are 2,100 soldiers with the 4/25 Airborne Brigade Combat Team in the process of deploying to Afghanistan. It’s a challenging time for them and their families.
When soldiers deploy, they leave their families behind, and for those families, life goes on. For the children, that means going to school but it's not always easy to focus on learning when they’re missing a parent. It’s something the teachers at Ursa Major, the elementary school on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, keep in mind.
First-grade teacher Elizabeth Glenn knows some of her students might be struggling.
"There's uncertainty, there's stress,” she said. "There might be feelings of loneliness, maybe they're angry."
She knows when students in her class lose a parent to deployment, often for months. Glenn says she tries to teach social-emotional learning so the students have the tools to cope, even at a young age.
"Just really understanding how they're feeling, validating how they're feeling and letting them know that it's ok to be feeling that way,” she said.
In Elizabeth Astrella's 5th grade class, the older students have a greater understanding of what a parent deploying to Afghanistan really means.
“There are going to be times when they don't know where they are, they don't know if they're safe and that's a really hard thing to deal with for anybody,” said Astrella. “You put that on the shoulders of a 9 or 10-year-old -- that's incredibly overwhelming."
She looks for changes in behavior or students acting out as signs they could be having a hard time.
“I try to not have my first instinct be, they're just having a behavior issue. I think, maybe something else is going on. Maybe something is happening at home,” she said.
Whatever their age, if students of deployed soldiers do act out, the teachers say they don't necessarily handle them differently from other kids. Instead, they make sure their students know they're supported at home and at school.
“They've lived all over the world. They've dealt with some really hard stuff at a really young age, so I just try to honor that. I give them the time to share.” said Astrella.
The school does have military life counselors to help any child having a hard time while their parent is deployed overseas.
The 4/25 is expected to be deployed to Afghanistan for nine months.