The military lifestyle can tough on high schoolers.
Teens from military families are more likely than those who aren't to think about, plan and attempt suicide, according to a study of California ninth- and 11th-graders released last month.
For military wife Cindy Simerly, relocating to a community that did not have a large military or transient population was a challenge, especially since her older child was attending high school for the first time.
"You come into a small town with kids who have been together since kindergarten – it's not necessarily that the people in general were unwelcoming, but they weren't really used to transitioning students," says Simerly, who is also vice president of fund development and marketing for the nonprofit Military Child Education Coalition.
"If teachers had maybe more familiarity with some of the challenges, it might have made that transition a little bit easier," she says.
High school teachers should keep these challenges in mind when working with military teens.
1. Education varies from state to state. The military lifestyle has its benefits, but the frequent moves can make staying on track academically a challenge, says Bianca Pilewski, school counseling department chairwoman at Meade High School in Fort Meade, Maryland.
Graduation requirements vary from state to state and when students move in high school, ensuring that they’ve met the right requirements to receive a diploma can be complicated.
The sequence of instruction in a particular course can vary too, says David Splitek, program manager of higher education initiatives for the Military Child Education Coalition. A student might miss something important in math or science, for example, when they move in the middle of the year.
"Assess the student where they are and what it is they need by the end of the year and map it out," says Pilewski, of how teachers need to be flexible.
2. Multiple deployments can take a toll. Dealing with the effects of often multiple deployments of parents isn't easy for military children, says Pilewski, the school counselor.
She says she’s seen an uptick in self-harm behaviors among her students.
"High school is stressful for all of our students," she says. "There's the pressure to do well. The pressure to get into a good college. They want to do well and now we got a family dynamic that is adding this extra layer of stress with deployments, multiple deployments, the homecoming and it is a way many of our kids are dealing with the stress."
High school teachers should watch for subtle changes, such as students suddenly not doing their homework, and refer the student to the appropriate person if necessary, she says.
Educators at the school make an effort to help keep deployed parents connected to their students while they are gone with Web tools. A parent can check a student’s grades online, for example, and is still able to talk to them about how they are doing in their classes.
3. Transitioning to civilian life can be tough for some teens. Some may think a parent’s retirement from the military would have a positive effect on a student’s life, but that’s not always the case, says Pilewski.
"Now mom is home all the time, now dad is home all the time, and they move from that military job to a civilian job which brings on new changes," she says.
Teens need to find new roles and to adjust to the new family dynamic, says Julie Coffey, community affairs leader for the greater San Antonio region at the Military Child Education Coalition and a former high school teacher and counselor. \
A lot of resources, like the access to the youth center on a military installation, are now gone, she says. "Some of their opportunities are kind of cut off because they are veterans' kids."