Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
Eating lunch with students once a week, knowing the “why” that stems from the “what,” and intentionality.
These were some of the ideas brought up by Unified School District 207 superintendent Keith Mispagel and the panel of subject matter experts at the Social and Emotional Implications for the Military-Connected Child discussion Feb. 13 in the University of Saint Mary’s Walnut Room.
The discussion was the latest in USM’s Social and Emotional Well-Being Series, which started in November 2019 at the Overland Park campus.
“It’s all about the kids,” said Cheryl Reding, USM Social and Behavioral Sciences division chair. “This comes out of the Education Department and our partnerships with (pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade) school districts.
“This series started as a response to needs expressed by our partnership school districts and community to better understand emotional well-being needs of school-age children and adolescents. Part of our commitment to our partnership schools is to provide educational support to the school community and stakeholders,” she said. “These presentations are educational and our hope is to increase awareness and care of the social and emotional well-being of K-12 students.”
Multiple community members, USM faculty and education majors attended the discussion.
Mispagel began the discussion with an overview of USD 207 and its goals. He also expanded on the idea of knowing the “why” behind the “what” and sharing a video to demonstrate. Overall, Mispagel said, the role of the school district in supporting mobile military-connected students is to be SUPERHUMAN for them.
“Students, families, each other,” Mispagel said.
“Everyone is different in experiences, backgrounds, strengths and challenges faced,” he said.
“Guidance, care, sympathy and empathy,” Mispagel said.
“Not only students but the families to overcome hurdles,” he said.
“Respect everyone,” Mispagel said. “Everybody is bringing something different to the table, different experiences. Even in those kids that I sat at lunch with once a week for four years, every one of them had something special.
“I respected the heck out of every one of them because they lived a different life than I did and had a greater experience than I’ll ever experience,” he said.
“Highlight positive moments often,” Mispagel said. “Maximize a student’s success.
“When 50 percent of our kids turnover every schoolyear, they walk in, they’re new kids,” he said. “I want to help them understand that they’re sitting next to a new kid, who is sitting in front of a new kid, who is sitting behind a kid that was here last year that was new, and everybody is together, so highlight that.”
“Help them,” Mispagel said. “Help everybody.”
Make a mark.
“How do we make our mark?” Mispagel asked. “Parents give us their best kids every day, and so our ‘why’ is to give our best every day for them.”
“Set the bar high,” he said.
Never give up.
“Every day there are challenges. Every day our families, students, staff are going to face challenges,” Mispagel said.
“How do we help them through it? Our role is to be SUPERHUMAN for them because they do that for us,” he said.
After Mispagel’s presentation, the panel of experts — retired Lt. Col. David Bresser; Corie Weathers, military spouse; Col. Scott Green, USD 207 board member and director of the Command and General Staff School; and retired Air Force Col. David Strohm — offered their thoughts and experiences on different topics that included making connections, being influential, working to connect the military and civilian communities, resiliency of military children and more.
Bresser said what worked for his children is that they didn’t receive special treatment.
“They were just treated like another kid. It wasn’t, ‘Oh, that’s the new kid. That’s the military kid,’” Bresser said. “Each one of my kids, the three of them, there was a teacher that made a connection and I don’t know what they necessarily did, … but I don’t think they treated them any differently.”
Weathers said kindness is key.
“All of you, regardless of what connection you have to these military kids or families, have incredible influence,” Weathers said. “Even though we might be the ones that are transient and passing through, your ability to have that touchpoint, whatever that is, with that family, have incredible influence.
“Just because we’re transient doesn’t mean that we’re not going to remember who you are and what you did,” she said. “Your kindness and your desire to want to be there for that student will leave a lasting mark on that family.”
Green said that helping military students feel accepted by the civilian community is a two-way street.
“I believe we have a responsibility as the military community to open the gates to engage, to bring people in and say, ‘Here is how we live and this is what’s going on in our world,’” Green said. “As much as we have an expectation of the community to do that, I think it is fair to try and be part of the community and be a partner. I think we’ve got work to do to be better as well as far as what goes on in Leavenworth. We don’t necessarily do a good job at showcasing that.”
Strohm, who was raised in a military family, said things have not changed in terms of how children get through the moves and change that have always been part of the lifestyle.
“The word resiliency keeps coming in. It is really good to be resilient. It is for survival, but you have to look out for the family and if there is somebody in the family who is not as resilient,” Strohm said. “I was one of four kids. Three of us were pretty resilient, one was still paying the price. You have to watch that. If you’re an educator, you see kids in the classroom, watch for that. Don’t stereotype anyone, including military children. They have similar characteristics … but they are also individuals.”
Attendees said the panelists offered new perspectives.
“I grew up in a civilian family, but a lot of my friends were military, and we got along really well, so I didn’t realize that military families felt so separated from civilian families,” said Ilani Mann, an elementary education student at USM who is currently student teaching fifth-grade at Eisenhower Elementary School. “Just hearing that and knowing that these kids might not know what it is like outside the gates really stood out to me. Using that in my teaching will be to familiarize them with things that are outside the gates and things that they may not get on a military installation.”
Emily Cline, USM education professor, said the discussion was eye-opening.
“I teach a class called ‘Diverse Learners’ and we talk about groups of students. I don’t think I would have ever thought before to include military students as a special student group,” Cline said. “That was interesting for me as an instructor. … If I were a teacher right now that was going into (military) schools, the question that I ask is, ‘What can I do?’
“When I ask that question, how will (the answer) impact me as a teacher? Is it going to change the way I lesson plan? Is it going to change the way I build a classroom community? Or is it going to be the same principles apply?” she asked. “Essentially, I think it is the same principles apply to all diverse students, there are the commonalities, but I really like that Dr. Strohm talked about not stereotyping. I love that because it is easy when you’re new to learning about a new group of students to (assume). That was probably one of my biggest takeaways.”
For more information about the Social and Emotional Well-Being Series, call the USM Education Department at (913) 758-6116.