Building a Strong Public School for Military Kids

Monroe Middle School Principal Kenneth is pleased the halls are empty and students are in their seats learning before the final bell.

Monroe Middle School Principal Kenneth is pleased the halls are empty and students are in their seats learning before the final bell.

Florida prides itself as a military friendly state. So when MacDill Air Force Base officials voiced concern about the poor academics and safety at the middle school serving base children, community leaders acted.

Problems at Tampa’s Monroe Middle School surfaced when Col. Tony Buntyn with the Air Force Reserves met with the base commander for MacDill. Buntyn was making a courtesy call as a member of the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee.

“We asked him what can we do for you?” Buntyn said. “And the very first thing he asked for is help with Monroe Middle School. It was in trouble and that is the school that supports our men and women that live on MacDill.”

Monroe – once an A rated school – had dropped to a D in 2012. And there were discipline problems. Buntyn said the chamber got involved and worked with school district officials, local businesses and non-profit organizations to alter the downward spiral at Monroe.

Flags from all five military branches fly outside Monroe Middle School, the public school for children living on MacDill Air Force Base.

Flags from all five military branches fly outside Monroe Middle School, the public school for children living on MacDill Air Force Base.

“It’s not just a local issue.It’s a national security issue,” Buntyn said. “Our military men and women deserve the best and here we are with a D rated school serving them.”

The community effort became known as “Operation MacDill,” a combined force of educators, parents, business owners and military members all dedicated to improving the school.

The first step, school district officials changed leadership at Monroe.

A seasoned teacher and education administrator, Kenneth Hart, took over as Monroe principal in June 2012.

You’ll find Hart most mornings with his teachers monitoring in the hallways as Monroe students change classes. He proudly pointed out that students were in their classrooms, seated and working before the final bell. Continue reading

8 Money Tips for Veterans Heading Back to School

Information in this post is from the Money Talks blog written by Angelia N. Millender, Broward College Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.

Choose wisely when considering an institution of higher learning – so that tuition, fees, and even books and possibly housing may be paid by your benefits without the need to borrow money and be burdened by student loan debt.

Here’s what you need to know…

1. Consider the public colleges and universities in your state. The cost of tuition, fees, and books at a public community college or university does not exceed the educational benefits paid under the Post-9/11 GI Bill for those who qualify. Find details on the GI Bill website.

2. Don’t buy the hype. There are many quality institutions among public colleges and universities. Don’t be influenced by fancy marketing or late-night TV advertisements.

3. Look for schools with support services. Does the school have a “Military-Friendly” designation?

4. Do your homework. Check out the websites of schools you’re considering. Look at their graduation rates and the pass rates on exams for certification.

5. Get ready to start. If your academic skills are a little rusty, a public community college is your best bet for remedial courses that will get you up to college level.

6. Ask the college to bridge the gap in benefits.

7. Check out state laws that confer additional educational benefits.

8. Compute your return on investment. Calculate the cost of your education in terms of the salary you will be able to earn after you complete your degree or certificate, and the amount you’ll need to repay if you have taken student loans.

Military Retirement = Going Back to School for Both of Us

Rex Temple and Liisa Hyvarinen Temple, April 22, 2010, the day he returned from a year's deployment in Afghanistan.

When they tell you retiring from the military is a gateway to a whole new life – they mean it. These last few months going through my husband’s separation from the United States Air Force after 28 years of service has at times felt like we moved to a new country and learned a whole new society and a language – and we stayed in the same town where we’ve been since 1996!

I am the first to say we are incredibly blessed to have awesome retirement benefits. But learning to navigate them has been quite interesting. Just getting my husband’s entire medical record transferred from the military to the Veterans Administration has taken months coupled with multiple medical evaluation appointments. Fortunately my husband is currently using his educational benefits and attending graduate school fulltime so we don’t have to worry about taking time off from a civilian job to go to all these appointments. He also transferred 28 months worth of educational benefits to me so I will be able to go back to school and update my skills. That transfer will not only pay for my tuition and help with my books but it will also pay a housing allowance, which will help with our mortgage payment. (The housing allowance varies based on location and is higher if you attend a physical “brick and mortar” school versus take courses just online.)

Being able to access your spouse’s educational benefits is a great benefit for military spouses who may need updated skills to help spruce up a resume that reflects all those mandatory PCS (Permanent Change of Station) moves as they followed their spouse from one duty station to the next. (For more information about transferring education benefits to your dependents, check here: http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2009/0409_gibill/ ) Keep in mind also that this fall you can use these benefits to pursue non-college degrees, on the job and apprenticeship training, flight programs and correspondence training.

(More on that here: http://www.gibill.va.gov/benefits/post_911_gibill/Post911_changes.html – be sure to scroll down the page to heading “Effective October 1, 2011)

SMSgt. Rex Temple with his parents, Raymond "Skip" Temple and Maxine Temple, and his wife, Liisa Hyvarinen Temple, during his retirement ceremony, April 6, 2011, at the MacDill Air Force Base Officers' Club.

The hardest part about retirement is of course deciding what you will do now and where you will go. Many retiring military families face the decision about whether to stay in the area where their last duty station is at or moving to someplace else – for example closer to their families. In our case my husband has not been home for Christmas in 26 years and ultimately it would be nice to get closer to his family (my family lives overseas in a very cold climate so that’s not an option).  But mix in the current tight job market and the high unemployment among veterans – and deciding where you will enjoy your retirement is not so simple. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the jobless rate for veterans who have served since September 2001 was 13.3% in June, up from 12.1% the month before. In June 2010 it was 11.5%.

Another hurdle has been dealing with friends and family. Retirement is a difficult process for anyone who has had an active career – whether it’s a civilian career or one in the military. Making the transition can take an emotional toll especially these days when you may have “survivor’s guilt” for being able to leave the service and your buddies and their families are still facing many more deployments and night and days filled with worry and separation from their loved ones.  Many friends and family are eager to spend time with you and constantly ask what your plans are for the future. When you don’t have an answer, having that conversation gets old quite quickly.

One of the most amazing blessings about retirement has been the ability to spend true quality time together. We recently were separated for 15 months when my husband first trained for a deployment out-of-state and then spent a year in Afghanistan. Although my husband returned from Afghanistan in the end of April 2010, life has not really returned to “normal” until a few weeks ago. Decompressing as a couple after a combat tour takes time and getting used to being together is also a time-consuming process. We have enjoyed gourmet cooking together, going on long walks with our dogs and getting into a routine of working out together at the gym.  Surprisingly this last deployment brought us much closer together as a couple because it was so incredibly demanding on our relationship and it’s been great to build on that strong bond even further. Now we get to go back to school together although we are studying vastly different subjects. But it will be fun to see just who has the higher GPA!

Military Base Schools: 3 out of 4 in Disrepair

A deteriorating roof at Clarkmoor Elementary at Fort Lewis, Washington. Emma Schwartz/iWatch News

Cockroach infestations, overcrowded classrooms are just two of the poor conditions found by reporter Kristen Lombardi who looked at  schools on military bases run by the Department of Defense. Three out of every four schools were found  in disrepair or beyond renovation.

The learning environment is important because many of those military children attending the schools also live with the reality that at least one of their parents will deploy – more than once. A new Rand study finds that longer, multiple deployments can affect student test scores.

You can read Lombardi’s full story HERE.

You can access the list of Pentagon rated schools HERE.

The project comes from the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News. Reporting included visits to two dozen base schools around the world and interviews with nearly 200 teachers, administrators, parents, students, Defense Department officials, researchers, and other sources. Thousands of pages of school and Pentagon documents, including facility assessments, deployment studies and reports to Congress, also opened a window on conditions and consequences for students.

VA Yellow Ribbon Program Looking for Colleges

Colleges and universities have until May 23 to enlist in a program that helps veterans and service members cover the cost of a higher education.

The Yellow Ribbon Program is part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill that allows degree-granting institutions to voluntarily enter into a formal agreement with VA to fund tuition and fee expenses that exceed either the annual $17,500 private institutions cap recently instituted by Congress or the in-state tuition and fees charged out-of-state residents attending public institutions. 

Photo courtesy of Veterans Today.

The institution can contribute up to 50 percent of those expenses and VA will match this additional funding for eligible students.  This may enable qualified students to attend school tuition-free. 

This Post-9/11 GI Bill program is available for service members and Veterans at the 100 percent benefit level, specifically those who have served at least 36 months on active duty or served at least 30 continuous days and were discharged due to a service-related injury after Sept. 11, 2001.  The benefit can be transferred to eligible family members.

Interested schools should visit VA’s Web site for more information on the Yellow Ribbon Program, There’s an explanation of the program, an agreement form, instructions, and an easy-to-follow checklist for colleges to sign-up.

For the 2010-2011 academic year, VA signed more than 1,200 Yellow Ribbon agreements.  A complete listing of the schools presently participating is available here.

VA Disqualifies Three Campuses to Protect GI Bill Students

This is a partial article from Military Advantage Blog written by Terry Howell. You can find the full article here.

The Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Affairs recently dis­qual­i­fied three West­wood Col­lege cam­puses in Texas from receiv­ing GI Bill funds in an effort to pro­tect prospec­tive vet­eran stu­dents from the school’s decep­tive admis­sions prac­tices. The move to with­draw the school’s GI Bill eli­gi­bil­ity was made after the Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­ity Office reported that West­wood and 14 other schools made ques­tion­able state­ments about grad­u­a­tion rates, failed to pro­vide clear infor­ma­tion about the program’s cost, and exag­ger­ated appli­cants’ poten­tial earn­ings.

The removal of these three schools is part of a larger effort to crack down on higher edu­ca­tion insti­tu­tions that use decep­tive admis­sions processes and heavy-handed tech­niques to per­suade stu­dents to enroll in their edu­ca­tion pro­grams.

The fol­low­ing arti­cles offer advice to help vets avoid get­ting ripped off:

In addi­tion, VA Blog­ger Alex Hor­ton has writ­ten a help­ful arti­cle on the Six Ways to Max­i­mize Your Edu­ca­tion Ben­e­fits.

The Library of Congress Wants Vets’ Stories

Robert Joseph O'Brien as a young sailor.

My dad, Robert Joseph O’Brien, was a WWII Navy veteran. On D-Day, he was part of a landing craft crew that took troops to shore, repeatedly, for two days. He then got put on burial detail.

Dad never talked about the Navy, D-Day or the war in general. I think in part it was because he had all daughters and didn’t think we’d understand. I would never have learned his story if he had not confided it to my husband, who told me.

Luckily, I was in radio and had the equipment 20 years ago to sit Dad down and record it. He was reticent, but shared enough detail so that I could produce a story for his grandchildren to hear and treasure. They played it the day we buried Dad at the National Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.

I share this because I know how important that recording is for my family and believe it’s the same for others.

The Veterans History Project seeks contributors.

Now, the Library of Congress is seeking help to compile the stories of all veterans for the Veterans History Project.

Whether you know a WWII veteran or a soldier just returned from Afghanistan, the Library of Congress wants your help recording their stories. The interviews can be audio or video and can be conducted by family, friends, neighbors or another veteran. The idea is to get the story.

Guidelines on how to participate, suggested questions and registration forms are all available on the Library of Congress web site . There’s also a “field kit” that can be downloaded.

In addition to individual interviews, a network of universities has been set up in Florida to help record veteran interviews. So far, three have signed up:
Florida State University Reichelt Oral History Program, Tallahassee at 850-644-4966 or rohp@fsu.edu.

University of Florida Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Gainesville at 352-392-7168 or portiz@ufl.edu.

University of Central Florida RICHES Program, Orlando. Register online at www.ucf.edu (search under “Veterans History Project”) or call 407-823-0242.

To schedule a workshop, speaking engagement, or explore ways to collaborate with VHP in Florida, contact Jessica Souva at Jessica@jsouva.com.

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