First lady Jill Biden told a group of educators and advocates that “giving military kids what they need to thrive is not just a nice thing to do, it’s critical to our national security,” in another of a series of listening sessions gathering information about the issues of military families.

And military families are a key focus in Jill Biden’s first weeks as first lady.

“I really get the feeling she’s trying to get a sense of what the issues are,” said Becky Porter, CEO of the Military Child Education Coalition, following the Feb. 17 session with representatives from six organizations. “She said the Biden administration wants to partner with the service organizations, those of us in this space trying to help military kids.”

Biden has revived the Joining Forces effort she and former first lady Michelle Obama spearheaded during the Obama administration. She’s held several listening sessions with military children and with military spouses in an effort to understand the issues, including the session with military teens a little more than a week following her husband’s inauguration as president.

In her opening remarks to the group, Biden reiterated her concerns about military children’s experiences, noting that while many are resilient, there must be an effort to understand their sacrifices, their fears and their losses. She gave examples of the loss of friends with moves, losing sleep over a parent’s deployment far away, and children celebrating yet another birthday “without one of the people they love most in the world.

“They’re proud of their families, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard at times,” said Biden, who saw the effect on her son Beau Biden’s young children when he was deployed overseas for a year with the National Guard.

“Yes, military kids are resilient, but they deserve support, and we need to recognize that their experiences are both beautiful and challenging.”

Biden’s opening remarks were open to the press, but the subsequent session was closed to reporters.

Biden also noted the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic. During the listening session with Biden, Porter said, “I emphasized the social-emotional impact COVID has had on military kids. That’s where we really need to target our efforts for the foreseeable future.” Porter said in her opinion, this can affect the ability of military children, and other children, to take advantage of educational opportunities.

Porter said some of the other issues brought up by the group included the need for a smoother transition for military children with special educational needs. She said Biden asked for examples of school districts that have good procedures in place to help these students.

Other issues brought up included the need to consider military children’s education as a readiness issue, and should be tied to basing decisions, Porter said. There was also discussion of the need to provide teachers with the tools they need to help military children with emotional issues related to their military life, such as the transitions before and after moves, and deployments of parents.

Biden, an educator, said the Operation Educate the Educators initiative begun in the Obama administration made progress, “but our work is far from finished. The needs of military children and their parents have evolved in the last 10 years.” That initiative was an effort to help teaching colleges better prepare educators and help them understand the needs of military children.

“Our students’ strength can mask how hard it really is. You know what they’re going through. You see the pain they hide. You know the challenges they face,” Biden said, in her remarks to the group.

“I hope you’ll help this initiative reflect the experiences of students today, so that we can truly serve the military families who serve us all,” she said.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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