To encourage positive behavior, improve healthy eating habits, and boost academic skills for children in military families, school districts, including three in California, received a funding boost last week in new grants from the Department of Defense.

“We have a significant contingent of military families and we are always seeking ways to support them,” said Cathy Pierce, superintendent of Santee School District in San Diego County, which received a $405,000 grant to increase “students’ and parents’ feeling of connectedness to school” and reduce discipline referrals.

“This grant will help us put additional counselors at two of our schools,” she said, noting that counselors will serve all students.

San Diego Unified School District, which has a large number of military families, received the bulk of the funding in the state – $2.5 million – to achieve health and academic goals. One program will teach students and families about food and how it affects the body and mind. Another program will provide professional development in language arts for teachers and tutoring for children to improve reading and writing skills.

“These kids do have a significant number of transitions in their lives,” said Vanessa Peters, military liaison for San Diego Unified. “I talked with a student yesterday who said that by middle school she had moved eight times.” Peters noted, “Academics vary from place to place. Tutoring is key.”

Lemon Grove School District received $361,856 to strengthen its already robust program in science and math, said Ernie Anastos, superintendent of the district. “This will allow us to provide a one-to-one environment with small laptops,” Anastos said.

A report released this year from the American Academy of Pediatrics noted that children in elementary school from military families were 2.5 times more likely to score as high-risk for emotional and behavioral problems than national norms, and 56 percent of the children were identified as having sleep problems.

“Childhood obesity and difficulties with literacy are national problems, but some of the challenges faced by military dependents — our youngest heroes — are especially difficult,” Kevin Beiser, vice president of the San Diego Unified school board, said in a statement. “Anyone who grew up in a family where dad or mom was in the service knows the challenges faced.”

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