HOW OFTEN DO DEPLOYMENTS OCCUR AND HOW MANY OF MY STUDENTS WILL BE AFFECTED?
Although it is impossible to predict the number of deployments that will occur during a time of war and terrorism, it is almost certain that one or more students from your school may be involved in a military deployment at any given time. Schools located in geographic areas where there are large military installations will be most affected.
HOW DO MILITARY DEPLOYMENTS AFFECT A CLASS?
A deployment that affects one child may affect other classmates vicariously, much as experiences of individual family members will affect the rest of the family. Classroom climate and student behavior and performance may be affected. Interference in the ability of students to focus on learning can result. Administrators may need to set the standard for school climate. Thoughtful classroom discussions may be appropriate for older students during studies of current events but sensitivity and support are required for all students whose loved ones have been deployed.
HOW DO STUDENTS REACT TO DEPLOYMENT?
Emotional reactions vary in nature and severity from student to student. Previous experiences or lack of experience with deployment, temperament, personality and the student's assessment of danger to their family member determine the child's reactions. Nonetheless, some commonalities exist when lives are disrupted by sudden separations and dramatic family changes.
® Loss of Stability: Deployments interrupt the normal order and routine of daily life. Lack of stability is very threatening. Deployments can upset the equilibrium for extended periods of time. In the mind of the student, if this sudden change can occur, then it is possible that other unpredictable events might also transpire .
® Loss of Control: By their very nature, deployments represent events over which the child has no control. Lack of control over happenings that impact daily life can produce an overwhelming feeling in children .
® Individual Reactions: Children's immediate reaction to deployment often includes a fear for their own safety. They may be intensely worried about what will happen to them and their family members, to a degree that may be judged by adults as unreasonable. However, young children have difficulty putting the needs of others before their own. Children need repeated reassurance regarding their own safety and the outcome of the deployment as it relates to them and their daily lives.
Conversely, for a variety of reasons, some children may express relief that the family member has left the family unit. The deployment may put an end to preexisting family tension or dysfunction or it may represent the finality of an action that resolves the child's anxiety, fear and uncertainty about when the separation will occur. However shocked or dismayed adults may be by children's reactions, it provides an opportunity for children and adults to understand their respective thoughts and feelings and marks a beginning point to work toward a new adjustment in the family.
WHAT ARE COMMON STRESS REACTIONS?
Acute reactions to separation generally appear within the first 24 to 48 hours. In the two weeks after the deployment, the reactions may change. Behaviors will vary depending upon the age and developmental maturity of the child. It is also important to note that it is possible for weeks or months to pass before a delayed reaction will become apparent and cause problems. (See Normal Reactions to Stress section)
WHEN SHOULD A REFERRAL TO A SCHOOL COUNSELOR, PSYCHOLOGIST OR SOCIAL WORKER BE MADE?
If symptoms persist over several weeks or seem extreme, teachers, with the help of the school counselor, should contact the parent. The teacher should consult with the school site administrator and support staff to ensure that the appropriate mental health referrals are recommended within the school or community. Support staff members may include the school nurse, school psychologist, school social worker and crisis intervention team member. The duration and intensity of stress reactions vary greatly depending on the level of impact on the child and family. These emotional surges may pass more quickly with the support of loved ones, friends, social contacts and military affiliations. If the separation is extremely traumatic, the need for counseling is very normal and sometimes necessary for healing and adjustment to take place. Counseling does not indicate that a person is mentally ill. It shows that a person is strong enough to accept help with the goal of learning how to manage changes in a constructive way.
WHY MUST THE TEACHER BECOME INVOLVED?
It is important to become involved for two reasons. First, studies have shown that the way in which an adult responds to individuals and groups after a crisis can significantly affect the outcome of the student's experience. Once the immediate physical and safety needs of the child are met, consideration must be given to the psychological needs of those affected. Through supportive interventions, delayed or prolonged stress responses can be minimized and learning can resume. Second, the process of effective intervening with individuals or groups of children can create a sense of class cohesiveness and help to re- establish the student's sense of security and belonging in class.
CAN DEPLOYMENT AND THE ADJUSTMENT PERIOD AFTER DEPLOYMENT AFFECT LEARNING?
Deployment and the period after deployment affect learning by creating instability in the lives of individual students as well as the classroom. Stressed students have difficulty concentrating, learning new concepts and controlling emotional expression. Some students may become very quiet and withdrawn while other may become disruptive and overly active. Their academic functioning may be impaired. Studies have shown that prolonged stress alters brain chemistry and function, causing students to have difficulty with concentration, memory, behavior and control of emotions.
HOW CAN MY SCHOOL COUNSELOR, NURSE, PSYCHOLOGIST OR SOCIAL WORKER HELP?
These school-based health and mental health professionals can help identify the problem and determine the degree of impact on students and on the school. They should be trained to assess the student's situation and provide supportive interventions that will assist in the student's adjustment. School-based health and mental health professionals can determine if additional services may be needed from district, community or military sources and can make those referrals.
WHAT KINDS OF TRAINING WOULD BE BENEFICIAL FOR SCHOOL STAFF MEMBERS?
School site deployment awareness training
National Guard Training Institute – Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC)
Consultation with school liaisons from the military services
Specialized assessment and intervention training for staff
Many of these services are available to schools through the Family Service Centers on near-by installations. The North Carolina National Guard State Family Readiness Office offers 24 hour assistance for families and educators by calling our toll-free number, 800-621-4136, extension 6324.