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Second Lady Jill Biden Lauds ODU/NNPS Partnership to Benefit Military-connected Children

Second Lady of the United States Jill Biden visited Newport News Public Schools' Lee Hall Elementary School Wednesday morning to highlight the unique needs of the 1.3 million military-connected children in the nation's schools - and to focus particular attention on a related partnership between Old Dominion University and NNPS.

The school division received a $2.5 million Department of Defense Education Activity grant last year that is designed to increase student achievement and ease the challenges that children of service members face due to transitions and deployment.

Through its TEAMS (Teaching, Education and Awareness for Military-connected Students) initiative, ODU's Darden College of Education is collaborating with NNPS on the three-year grant, one of 26 awarded to military-connected local education agencies across the country. The initiative is an exemplary model for how higher education institutions can form partnerships with schools to address the unique needs of military dependent children, and in her remarks, Biden emphasized that "the work happening at Old Dominion is so important."

Programs developed for the grant will be designed to increase the capacity of five elementary schools (including Lee Hall) and two middle schools in Newport News to understand and respond to the academic, social and emotional needs of military-connected students. NNPS teachers, counselors and administrators will be the first in the nation to matriculate through a graduate certificate program developed as part of the grant. The grant also provides for math specialists and military support counselors.

Welcoming Biden on Wednesday were Lee Hall principal Amanda Corbin-Staton and NNPS superintendent Ashby Kilgore, who said, "This is a great day at Lee Hall Elementary School, and this is a great day to be superintendent of Newport News Public Schools." She thanked Biden for highlighting "the need for all of us to support military-connected students."

Biden's message on Wednesday - that it is vitally important to support programs dedicated to serving military kids as they make transitions to new schools, or deal with emotional strains from having a parent deployed - is at the core of the Joint Forces initiative she and First Lady Michelle Obama established a year ago. The goal of the national initiative is to educate, challenge and spark action from all sectors of society to support U.S. veterans of military families.

"One of the best parts of my roles as Second Lady is spending time with so many veterans and military families. I've traveled to bases across this country and the world, and I'm always inspired by the strength, the resilience and the pride of our military families. But they have also shared with me their challenges - how difficult it can be to have a parent in harm's way, or the stress of a mom or dad doing the job of two parents while one is deployed."

Lee Hall was an ideal venue for the Joining Forces anniversary event, where 42 percent of the school's 700 students are military-connected.

ODU's John Nunnery, executive director of the Center for Educational Partnerships at the university and leader of the TEAMS initiative, was among the invited speakers at the Wednesday morning program.

"TEAMS started as just a few people at Old Dominion who wanted to make a difference for children of military families," he said. "A little more than a year ago today, Dr. Christine Ward and Dr. Kathleen Levingston, ODU faculty who are both Navy spouses with young children, planted the initial seed of inspiration that has grown into a major effort involving many partners.

"With further support from Pamela Arnold, Dr. Joanna Garner and many other ODU faculty, staff and students, TEAMS now includes a graduate certificate program for educators who serve military families and children, and a comprehensive assessment process to help schools identify where they are on the road to becoming 'military-conscious' schools. Together we seek to transform schools and educational systems into military-conscious organizations. More than simply military friendly, military-conscious schools proactively seek to address all of the unique educational needs of children of military families, including family support, social-emotional support for children, and academic improvement in mathematics and literacy.

"What began as a seed of inspiration has grown so remarkably because of the commitment and service of many dedicated educators, university officials, community leaders, and military servicemen and -women."

Accompanying Biden on her visit was Adm. James A. "Sandy" Winnefeld Jr., who serves as the ninth Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He visited classrooms with the Second Lady and also spoke during the program, which was attended by many members of the military.

"We all know there are unique challenges and stresses associated with being a military child - Mom and Dad being away on deployments, moving from city to city, new schools, new sports teams, new friends. So today's announcements that you'll hear about - this fantastic partnership, this team effort, between the Department of Defense, ODU and our schools to develop programs focused on the academic, social and emotional needs of military children, and to develop a certificate program and analytical tools to recognize these needs - will ensure the long-term success of our military children, the sons and daughters of those who wear the cloth of our nation, and who serve right alongside those men and women in uniform," Winnefeld said.

As Biden noted later in her remarks: "Nowhere is this work more important than in Virginia, which educates more than 70,000 military children. Virginia has stepped up and shown its commitment to make life easier for highly mobile military kids. With the help of Old Dominion and community partners, Lee Hall is doing everything it can to ensure our military students get the world-class education they deserve and that they are learning in supported classrooms."

The messages Biden and others on the program shared were well received by the military parents, students and educators in attendance. But, as so often is the case, it was the youngsters who stole the show, like third-grader Jaelen Franco, who performed admirably and spoke articulately in his role of introducing the Second Lady, and fifth-grader Allaynah Jackson, who was invited to read "Moving," a poem she had written. Jackson's mother is a veteran and her father serves on active duty with the U.S. Navy.

Jackson's poem, reprinted below, tugged at the heartstrings of those among the platform party as well as the members of the audience seated in the school gym. Both Jackson and Franco received heartfelt, appreciative hugs from the Second Lady.

Moving is a big thing in the military

Sometimes it can be very scary

Having to go to a new school

Might not be so cool

When you move, you feel new

But your parents have to do what they have to do

The thing that you need to know

Is that even though they're in the military, they will never let you go.

This article was posted on: April 26, 2012

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