Supporting—and Celebrating—the Military Child
The Military Child Education Coalition recognizes the sacrifice and resilience of students with active-duty parents every April
Like a lot of teenagers, Caitlin Porter would tell her parents they were “ruining” her life. But she had good reason to feel anxious. Both mom and dad served in the Army. That meant the Porters moved around—a lot—and as Caitlin went from one town to another, she attended different schools and began the process of finding her place in a new community over and over again.
“I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to sustain a close, personal relationship for more than two years,” Caitlin told her parents.
This turned out not to be true. Caitlin, now 30, has been married for nearly four years. But her sentiment is common among the 1.2 million children in the U.S. who have active-duty parents. They typically move six to nine times between kindergarten and high school graduation, making it difficult to build strong friendships and attain academic success amid constant disruption and potential sacrifice.
But these young people—and their resilience—aren’t invisible. Organizations support them every day and, since the mid-1980s, set aside April as a celebration of the Month of the Military Child.
One of its key promoters is the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC).
Based in Texas and led by president and CEO Rebecca Porter—Caitlin’s mom—MCEC is a caring network of educators and parents serving students across the nation. It provides communities with activities and events to honor military kids, while helping ensure military-connected children are college, workforce, and life-ready. For the Month of the Military Child, celebrants can tap into MCEC’s Military Child Toolkit for yard signs, posters, t-shirt templates, and certificates of recognition that can be used for Purple Up! Day.
Military Child Coalition president and CEO Becky Porter with her daughter, Caitlin, and son, Zac, in Germany.
Officially “Purple Up! For Military Kids Day,” it’s held every April 15 to support and thank military children. (Purple combines the colors of all military branches into one.) This year, First Lady Jill Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona cheered on military kids at a Purple Up! Pep Assembly at Knob Noster High School in Missouri on April 13. “The lives of military students may not be defined by the edges of a hometown,” Dr. Biden told the students. “Your school journey may look different than the ones we see in movies. But that’s what makes you unique. The lessons you’ve learned have made you strong, wise, kind, and courageous.”
Celebrating that strength, wisdom, and courage runs throughout Month of the Military Child. MCEC’s Call for the Arts program, for instance, encourages military kids to share their experience through art, poetry, dance, and sculpture. This year’s first-place winner, Angeline from Middletown High School in Connecticut, wrote a heartbreaking poem about having “no more tears, emotions become immune,” upon losing her father, who served in the Coast Guard Reserves.
Students like Angeline rely on MCEC’s programs and services to help them through these emotional times. One of the signature initiatives MCEC supports is Purple Star Schools. Developed in 2017 by a superintendent in Ohio to demonstrate his schools were military-friendly, Purple Star Schools is now in 36 states and consists of criteria for schools to adopt for accepting and supporting military kids. One critical element of the program is the creation of a peer-led club, comprised of military and civilian kids, to welcome new students and act as support for one another. Purple Star Schools also have a designated military liaison on campus and offer professional development for educators and counselors about the unique needs and experiences of military families.
“The goal is to have something that military families can see online that says this school made an effort to embrace military connected kids and develop some cultural competency around military families,” Porter tells The Elective.
First Lady Dr. Jill Biden speaks to students at Knob Noster High School during an assembly on April 13, 2022, in Knob Noster, Missouri. The visit was part of the Purple Up campaign for the Month of the Military Child.
Before joining MCEC, Porter, who has a PhD in clinical psychology, served in the Army for more than 30 years and is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Porter’s husband, John, is also an Army veteran, serving for 24 years. This background informs how she leads MCEC—as does her experience raising two military kids: 30-year-old Caitlin and 27-year-old Zac, who attended eight and six K–12 schools, respectively.
Porter has seen students cope with and bridge the transitions of multiple moves in many ways. One that’s particularly effective is belonging to clubs, like the ones offered at Purple Star Schools, and teams.
Zoe Schneider, 17, whose father serves in the Army, knows how beneficial they can be. After stints at four previous schools, Zoe prepared for a move to Leesville High School in Louisiana. She wanted to join the dance line but couldn’t attend tryouts. Zandra Grady, sponsor of the dance line and MCEC’s Student 2 Student (S2S) peer-led group at the school, came up with the solution. Zandra negotiated with the principal to allow Zoe to try out via video. When she arrived at Leesville High, it was as a member of the club welcomed by girls who shared her love of dance. Next year, she’ll be dance line captain.
Zoe said that honors classes, including AP® Calculus and AP Literature, also help her feel involved. “It keeps me on my toes,” Zoe tells The Elective. “I make sure I have my assignments done and studying for exams is a key factor for college.” When she heads to college in a couple of years, she plans to major in biomedical science (and is excited to take AP Biology to prepare).
(from left) Zoe Schneider with her mom, Natalie, dad, Major Joshua Schneider, and brother, Zachary.
Zoe doesn’t plan on following her father into the Army, but her brother Zachary, a college senior, does plan on enlisting. According to the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, Zachary will be among the 79% of recruits who have a relative with military experience—a staggering statistic considering that only 1% of the nation’s population serves in the armed forces.
Like Caitlin, Zoe has been able to navigate the challenges of being a teenage member of a military family. And her experience makes her appreciate the Month of the Military Child and its focus on supporting and celebrating young people in similar situations.
“It’s rough on the kids to move and find friends and to fit in,” Zoe says. “A lot of time, parents on active duty are the ones that bring attention. It’s nice to focus on the kids and what they are going through.”