[ skip to content ]

News

Darden College Is Partner in $2.4 Million Grant Awarded to Newport News Public Schools

Old Dominion's Darden College of Education is a major player in the recent $2.4 million Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) grant awarded to Newport News Public Schools (NNPS).

The three-year grant, one of 26 awarded to military-connected local education agencies across the country, is designed to increase student achievement and ease the challenges that children of service members face due to transitions and deployment. Programs developed for the grant will be designed to increase the capacity of five elementary and two middle schools in Newport News to understand and respond to the academic, social and emotional needs of military-connected students.

The participating schools sharing in the $30 million worth of grants nationwide serve communities near more than 30 military installations. These projects will impact more than 25,000 students from military families and more than 65,000 total students.

According to John Nunnery, executive director of The Center for Educational Partnerships (TCEP) in the Darden College, Hampton Roads has the largest concentration of active-duty military members in the country, and is home to approximately 68,000 dependents of active-duty parents. "If you were to put all of these students together, it would be the third largest school system in Virginia," he said.

As part of the grant awarded to Newport News Public Schools, TCEP and a joint initiative within the college called TEAMS (Teaching, Education and Awareness for Military-connected Students) have joined forces to take on two subcontracts, valued at approximately $360,000, in the areas of programming and evaluation. In addition, the grant will support two cohorts of Newport News educators to complete an ODU graduate certificate in education. ODU faculty will develop the following three components:

A 12-hour graduate certificate program on Military Child and Families for practicing teachers, counselors and assistant principals;

An in-service professional development program for counselors, led by Christine Ward, Kathleen Levingston and Laurie Craigen from the Department of Counseling and Human Services; and

An assessment tool called the Military Consciousness Awareness Toolkit, or Mil-CAT, to help schools and school divisions determine strengths and needs as they provide support to military children and their families, led by Joanna Garner of TCEP, and a professional development and technical assistance program for instructional coaches in math, both led by Melva Grant, an assistant professor in the Department of STEM Education and Professional Studies.

Development of the graduate certificate program is being coordinated by Pamela Arnold of TCEP, and conducted by center staff; counseling and human services faculty; Jennifer Sughrue, associate professor of educational foundations and leadership; and members of the dean's staff. When it goes online next summer, it will be the first of its kind in the country, Nunnery said. "There is a graduate specialization in military children and families in the Social Work program at the University of Southern California. Our program is meant to help people who work inside and with the schools make sense of available resources and understand some of the specific issues around education of this particular population."

Children of service members are like other kids in many respects, but they're also different in many respects, said Nunnery. He referenced the commentary in the June 8 issue of Education Week, "The Need to Support Students from Military Families," in which Ron Avi Astor, from the USC School of Social Work, addresses this matter. (ODU and USC have proposed a joint symposium on the topic for the 2012 American Educational Research Association.)

"For too long, military children in public schools have been overlooked, moving from school to school an average of nine times during their K-12 years and often facing a civilian education system that appears uncaring and uncompromising," Astor wrote.

Said Nunnery, "Imagine being 11 years old and you've already been in five different schools. Continuity of services becomes an issue, trying to assess where a student is relative to a particular state's standards. Oftentimes it is difficult to get school records transferred in a timely way so educators can make a proper placement.

"Then there are children who experience various kinds of trauma - a parent who comes back with post-traumatic stress disorder, for example - or just multiple lengthy deployments. There are a lot of family-adjustment issues and emotional issues surrounding that."

Nunnery added, "A teacher can easily misinterpret the root cause of a child's behavior if he or she is unaware that the child is military connected, or the teacher may not know about deployment cycles. There are things a school can do to make sure every kid has a friend, and other strategies that can be utilized. A lot of this is not creating new stuff, but it's about helping schools make sense of what's already there and deploy it in a way that's both supportive of our military-connected kids and helpful to the schools in reaching their goals."

The initial graduate certificate class next summer will have 24 students, but Nunnery is hopeful that it can be expanded to reach other Hampton Roads school divisions, as well as schools throughout the country, via distance learning. In fact, The Center for Educational Partnerships first began to explore this area of service after James Merrill, superintendent of Virginia Beach City Public Schools, mentioned to Nunnery and Ward in January 2010 a need for more university involvement regarding military-connected children.

TEAMS research and development ultimately led to a number of associations, including an MOU that TCEP signed with the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), a nonprofit organization that is the leading provider of professional development and programming in this area of educational specialization. From there, the center did a preliminary needs assessment activity in eight different schools from four Hampton Roads school divisions. That in turn led to a meeting with NNPS superintendent Ashby Kilgore, whose division was applying for the DoDEA grant. Members of TEAMS also presented a distinguished lecture at the MCEC annual conference in June.

In responding to a survey by the MCEC and the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education, whose intent is to get 100 colleges of education to build this type of programming into their curricula, the two groups learned that ODU's was among only a few education colleges already planning initiatives in this regard. As a result, Nunnery, Craigen and Levingston were invited to Jill Biden's office for a meeting in January. Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, and first lady Michelle Obama have an initiative called Joining Forces, whose purpose is to enlist education colleges to address the needs of military-connected children, said Nunnery, who added, "We became visible very quickly."

Levingston, who worked extensively with military children and their families in her previous role as a professional counselor with Fleet and Family Support Centers as well as in private practice, will join colleagues Ward and Craigen in providing oversight and training to three newly hired NNPS school counselors whose role will be to implement a comprehensive school counseling program that is especially responsive to the military-connected children and their families. The ODU faculty members will also provide guidance and support as these counselors develop connection centers for military families at each of seven NNPS sites, among other programs and services.

The wife of an active-duty naval officer, Levingston is also the mother of two children, ages 3 and 2, and knows firsthand the challenges military families face.

"I understand the stressors and demands that come with the military lifestyle, particularly how these issues affect the children," she said. "Although children of military parents are extremely resilient, they still face challenges that come with transitions, deployments and, unfortunately, sometimes death or injury of a family member.

"Nearly 2 million children in our schools have some connection to the military. Thus, the need for specific programs and support networks in the schools for these children and families, who I believe serve right along with their service member, is greatly warranted."

Nunnery also strongly believes that it is important to provide targeted services in support of service members and their children.

"Since these folks have our backs, we ought to have theirs - these kids and their families do take on a burden associated with military service. Particularly among the enlisted ranks, there are a lot of service members with young families who are not highly paid, yet who are making a sacrifice to protect us, so I figure the least we can do is try to provide exceptional educational opportunities for their children. And to be able to do that, you have to understand the family context and the community resources that are available to fulfill that mission."