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DoD Grant Provides Learning Opportunities for Military Kids

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Guest speakers, after-school clubs, iPads, field trip funding and classroom enrichment projects are just a few of the resources for military children that have been funded by a DoD Education Activity Grant.

In 2010, Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) were awarded a DoDEA grant that aimed to provide better learning opportunities for military children.

Joseph DeSilva, the DoDEA grant resource teacher for the county, has been working with Fort Meade schools for three years. He is in charge of developing programs and resources with the grant at Manor View, Pershing Hill and Meade Heights elementary schools; West Meade Early Education Center; MacArthur Middle and Meade High schools.

“This year’s grant is the Tapestry Grant,” DeSilva said. “It’s meant to bring all the various elements of the Meade area together in a ‘tapestry.’ ”

The grant has three main goals: math achievement through STEM integration, literacy achievement, and creating a positive social-emotional climate for military students and families.

Focus on Children

Deputy Superintendent of Academics and Strategic Initiatives Maureen McMahon is responsible for applying for the grant and helping AACPS schools with military children obtain the grant.

One of the requirements to obtain a DoDEA grant is that the schools must have a minimum of 15% military-connected students. “Military connected is defined as active duty, retired, DoD civilian and DoD contractor that works on the instillation, like Corvias [Military Living],” DeSilva said.

One of the main objectives of the Tapestry Grant is to promote the social and emotional well-being of military children. “It’s a large focus, because it’s a new goal with this grant,” DeSilva said. “Schools have embraced it with enthusiasm. So far, to support the social-emotional component of the schools, we have started by funding new after-school clubs and sending teachers to professional development sessions.”

To improve the social and emotional well-being of military students, wellness and mindfulness programs have been introduced in the schools.

“The wellness piece includes things like infusion of yoga, exercise and healthy living,” DeSilva said. “Mindfulness includes mental and emotional focus, and can include meditation, calming, self-awareness and empathy.

“In addition to these areas, we are also making sure we have an accurate count of military connected students, setting up student ambassador programs and working on setting up partnerships with military units,” he said.

While DeSilva isn’t affiliated with the military himself, he has friends and family that have served, which led him to apply for his current position.

“I was a regular classroom teacher … who had enthusiasm for students and school improvement,” he said. “I’ve always felt connected to the military, and I applied for this job because it allowed me to serve those who serve, which often includes spouses and children.”

Working Together

Part of DeSilva’s job is to work closely with the principals at each of the schools and manage the grant website, where military parents can find pictures, articles and resources about how the grant works to help their children.

“As the site manager, I would really like to know what parents and families would like on the website for quick access and available resources,” he said. “We try to make parents aware of the grant, its goals and how we support the schools.

“We, both the grant program and AACPS, are always looking for ways to better support military families. However, we often don’t know all the needs or what would be the most helpful.”

To strengthen community and industry partnerships for the school, DeSilva is working with the Fort Meade Alliance. He is also working with Fort Meade School Liaison Officer Antoinette Parker to build a connection with the Youth Center as well as child, youth and school services programs.

For families who need additional help navigating the AACPS administration, a grant lead teacher is available at every school as a point of contact, especially for children transferring into or out of a new school.

“We would like to know what [military parents] need and how we can help,” DeSilva said.

Tapestry Grant

The Meade Family Tapestry Project first aims to increase educators’ understanding of what it means to be a military student by purposefully welcoming and interviewing students and parents early each school year.

“This knowledge will drive collaborative work with community organizations, business and government partners to develop a healthy, social-emotional school and classroom learning culture, where all students feel safe, supported and excited to learn,” DeSilva said.

“Building upon our prior work in the Meade-area schools, this project will create a multi-layered Professional Learning Community to provide opportunities for pre-K–12 students and their families to engage in a rigorous and relevant educational journey together,” he said. “We will weave our community stakeholders and educators into a beautiful tapestry of support designed to increase the positive nature of all students’ school learning experiences, increase math engagement and achievement, and increase reading comprehension among reluctant secondary school readers.

“Inside our school classrooms, in afterschool clubs and throughout the community,” DeSilva said, “we will see students with greater levels of self-esteem, emotional stability, mathematics learning and literacy — students ultimately prepared for future social, emotional and academic success, in their personal and professional lives.”