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 Home > News & Policies > April 2003

For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
April 30, 2003

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at Senate Spouses Lunch

Thank you, Fran and Diane. I always look forward to this luncheon - to this time with each other and the chance to share our interests and concerns. The Fort Belvoir School Choir is the perfect entertainment for what I want to talk to you about today., Many of these choir members are children of our military men and women. Fort Belvoir is a Fairfax County school that serves both military and civilian children.

Over the last year, as I’ve traveled to military bases across the country, I’ve become aware of the special challenges that face the children of our military men and women. Today, I want to talk to you about the young troops in our military who serve on the home front every day – the children of our military families. When an Air Force officer was asked what he needed in Iraq, he said, "Please don’t send cookies, care packages, or socks. Just help take care of our children."

Military children spend their young lives moving from home to home and school to school. Transition and separation are part of their lives, and these children accept their duty with brave hearts. There are nearly one million military children. Thirty-five thousand have both their mom and dad in the military – while more than 80 thousand are children of single parents. And 800 thousand military children go to public and Department of Defense schools in your home states.

Many of us may think that military families live only on military bases. But nearly 75 percent live in neighborhoods near the base or post. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is a large installation in Fran’s home state of Ohio with nearly 6,400 children in school near the base. And in Diane’s home state of Nebraska, there are more than 10 thousand school-age children living near Offutt Air Force base.

Military children move as many as six to nine times from kindergarten to high school. By her senior year, a child will have attended six elementary and middle schools and two or more high schools - often in different states.

Lara, a 10th grader at E.J. King High School in Sasebo, Japan, said: "Moving every so often ... is something I do not really look forward to. My mind goes through twice as much confusion as someone who never moved during his or her life. When I was little I did not have close friends, I was just there getting to know everybody. And then when I did, it was time for me to move again. Moving in the middle of my school year was really tough for me, I had to get used to new teachers and the atmosphere. Still ... I am very proud of my dad for serving our country ... My dad sacrifices so much for us and yet so do his children."

This constant change has a huge impact - both academically and socially - on children. And it has a great impact on our schools. Many schools are not prepared to help military children transition from one school to another. There is no systematic process that ensures that records, grades, and accomplishments transfer with a military child. And this is a problem for every child, not just military children, in our highly-mobile society. Many students lose their class rank after transferring, and many fall behind in class requirements because their new school will not grant credits for their previous coursework. Many children who were athletes at their old school miss the opportunity to participate in sports because they transfer too late or miss tryouts. Some students, like Renee, deal with the challenge of not graduating.

Renee lives with her sister and her sister's husband, a soldier. As a senior, she recently moved to her fourth new high school in four years. Renee's new school has more graduation requirements. She must pass a graduation test and have a year of computer science. Her new school requested that Renee's previous school grant her a reciprocal diploma. But the school refused. Renee is receiving extra special help and support from her new school, but she may not graduate on time.

This is a common problem for many military children and their families. But it does not have to be this way. Our country has always supported its military - in times of war there were community efforts to roll bandages and knit socks. We have a great capacity to care for the home front. Now is the time for a new Victory garden. In this garden, we can tend to the needs of military children.

First - and I want to ask all of you to do this - we can be advocates for military children. Visit military bases and installations in your home states and talk to children and their families. Spend time in classrooms and ask students how they are doing in school. Talk to school administrators about how they prepare students for transition to a new school. Second, encourage schools to become part of the solution. Schools can work to provide continuity by sharing information and developing a process to resolve transition issues. For example, in Washington state, courses in Pacific Northwest History are waived for entering high school students who have taken state history in another state.

And we can work to bring attention to this important issue. We can reach out to the military leadership in our states and bring schools and families together to talk about transition issues. This is a great cause for all of you. You and your spouses know how difficult it can be to relocate and start anew. Your help and support can make a difference on the home front for our military.

The Military Child Education Coalition is working to do that. The coalition’s founder, Dr. Mary Keller, works with schools and families to help military children with transition. I have brought publications to provide you with more information on how you can help military children – children like Kiara who deserve not only a great education, but our support.

A sixth grade student at Belle Chasse Academy in Louisiana, Kiara wrote a poem titled "I Serve Too." It reads, "I'm a military child, I stay strong when my dad goes away. If there is a war and my dad is detached, I will help him fight back. With my braveness and courage I can stay strong, my family's support helps me carry on. Whenever we move, I start over again, I have to go to a new school, and make new friends. Even though people think I'm a military brat, I just don't quite see it like that. My daddy helps defend our country, so we can live in peace and harmony. So all the military children help their mothers and fathers because we serve too, we're their sons and daughters."

With your support, we can fulfill our duty on the home front - and the hopes of every military parent who prays, "... help take care of our children." Thank you.


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