MacDill Accelerates Innovation in Education

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Michael Killian
  • 6 ARW PA

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The MacDill Council for Education Excellence hosted a meeting between military leaders, school staff, and parents to discuss initiatives for improving the education of military children, Nov. 27, 2023.

The MCE is making significant strides in supporting military families and their educational needs. This initiative, now in its sixth year, has become a beacon of collaboration between military and educational districts, offering unique solutions to challenges faced by children of service members.

“It’s a quarterly meeting of MacDill Air Force Base and Hillsborough County public school leadership where we come together to better the education experience for our military affiliated families” said U.S. Air Force Col. Edward Szczpanik, 6th Air Refueling Wing deputy commander.

The MCE actively addresses concerns unique to military families, such as deployments and high turnover rates. Schools have implemented 'Anchor for Life' groups, which aid new students in acclimatizing to their new environment. These groups provide support kits, including items like special bears for children with deployed parents, helping them cope with the absence.

One of the many initiatives explored was expanding the Military and Family Life Counseling program
which provides confidential, non-medical counseling services to military personnel and their families.
They work closely with schools and educators to develop strategies that accommodate the unique
needs of military children. This includes helping children adapt to new schools, catch up academically
after moves, and moves and providing resources for special educational needs.

One of the most impactful policies, spearheaded by the council, ensures that military families affected by rezoning can maintain their children in their current schools. This stability is crucial for families frequently on the move and has been well-received in the community.

Understanding the military lifestyle is essential for educators. The base has introduced an immersion program for teachers to familiarize them with the challenges military families face. These activities offer insights into aspects like varying time zones and family dynamics, fostering a deeper understanding among educators.

Looking ahead, the MCE aims to enhance student engagement and belonging. Initiatives like integrating clubs within the school day have been introduced, offering activities like weaving, cheer-leading, and soccer. These clubs are designed to foster connections and a sense of community among students based on shared interests.

A key challenge highlighted by the council is the unpredictability of military life and its impact on students. The council emphasizes the importance of adaptability and awareness among staff to provide immediate support in times of sudden deployments or conflicts, ensuring that the educational environment remains a supportive space for students.

“Let’s make sure that we give all our students extra love because their lives could change at a moment’s notice” said Ms. Rachel Waters, Tinker Elementary School principal. “I remember being told by a parent that some people were being called up with a recent conflict brewing in the middle east, and within ten minutes I was able to get a staff meeting going to address that.”

The success of the MCE at MacDill Air Force Base is becoming a model for other districts, showcasing the benefits of a strong partnership between military bases and educational institutions. As these initiatives continue to evolve, they promise to enhance the educational experiences of military children, ensuring they receive the support and stability they need for academic success.

MCE’s efforts demonstrate a commitment to the well-being and educational advancement of military families. Their innovative approaches, from policy changes to immersive programs, are making a tangible difference in the lives of many. As this model gains recognition, it has the potential to influence similar initiatives across the country, further supporting the unique needs of military families.