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Tapestry project aims to create “new norm” for serving the military child

A joint project by the Fort Meade Alliance (FMA) and Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) is advancing towards an ambitious goal, namely setting a new educational standard for serving the military child.

Supported by a four-year Tapestry grant awarded to AACPS from the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), members of the FMA, AACPS and Fort George G. Meade have started developing communication tools and professional development services to help teachers better understand and support children of military families.

Led by the Education and Workforce Development Committee chaired by Penny Cantwell, the Fort Meade Alliance recognized the need for the initiative a few years ago while working with Fort Meade schools on academic and wellness programs.

“We realized that some of the teachers who work at schools on-post, had never been past the school grounds, had never gone into historic Fort Meade. They had never seen a post exchange or a commissary,” said Lisa Decker, chair of FMA’s Military and Family Committee, which is also helping with the project. “Many teachers weren’t familiar with military life and the psychological impacts on military families and kids, and they didn’t have a way to learn that.”

In addition, teachers and school officials lacked comprehensive knowledge of the array of military programs designed to support military children and families. Often, school officials lack information about individual children which is essential to properly placing and integrating students in their new schools.

The Tapestry grant project aims to improve that situation through several initiatives.

First, the FMA created the “Growing the Military Child” pamphlet which lists the full range of support services from tutoring and childcare to financial counseling and survivor services. The FMA is currently creating an online version which links to all services.

Second, the FMA and AACPS are developing professional development programs for teachers.

“We have reached out to the wives of previous Fort Meade commanders and senior officers and asked them to share their experiences and knowledge of what works well for military children and what doesn’t,” said Cantwell, who has led the FMA’s Education and Workforce Development Committee for many years. “We hope to offer faculty members professional development on a routine basis so that they learn more about how to help military children and also learn more about the life of Fort Meade and what it means to support today’s war fighter.”

The Tapestry initiative is also facilitating AACPS’s efforts to improve and standardize its intake efforts for military children. During a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) season, Fort Meade sees between 500 and 1,000 families transition on or off the post, said Antoinette Parker, School Liaison Officer/School Support Services Director at FGGM. That volume can make it difficult to ensure that all relevant information is conveyed to families and schools.

New students often arrive in the middle of the school year and, often, their educational records from other states or countries do not arrive at the same time. Consequently, school officials may not know that a child is gifted or has special needs. They might not know that both parents are currently deployed or that the child is even from a military family.

Consequently, AACPS is developing “a new norm” for welcoming military children, said Maureen McMahon, AACPS Deputy Superintendent. The intake process will include expanded interviews to better understand the talents, needs and circumstances of each child. The school system plans to pair new students with a big brother or sister to help them fit into their new school and alter school practices that negatively impact military children, such as the practice of only allowing students to try out for teams at one point during the year.

“Anne Arundel County Public Schools is known worldwide as one of the best places to come if you have a special needs child. We want to have the same reputation for how we treat military children,” McMahon said.

“One of the colonel’s biggest priorities is investing in strong partnerships with schools,” Parker added. “Quality schools are one of the main reasons why people choose to live where they live. So we want Fort Meade to have the best of the best schools when it comes to quality education, great people and all the resources to support military families.”

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