Military dad holding daughter
Published on: Nov 5, 2019

Teachers, school psychologists and counselors are frequently called upon to provide emotional support for students so they can achieve positive behavioral and academic outcomes. A new Penn State-led, five-year project will provide additional support for children of military families, who can be at greater social-emotional risk given frequent moves and other stressors.

Funded by a $2.65 million grant from the Department of Defense Activity (DoDEA) Military-Connected Academic and Support Programs, the goal of the Schools Empowering At-Risk Students (SEAS) Project is to give schools the tools they need to help military students succeed by facilitating access for student support personnel to online training materials and providing technical assistance, coaching, and consultation in ways that are sustainable and manageable given the unique needs of each school and community.

According to principal investigator Cristin Hall, assistant professor of education in school psychology and faculty affiliate for the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State, there are 72,000 U.S. military students who are served in DoDEA schools worldwide and some of them may be in need of extra support.

“These students can be at a greater risk due to the transient nature of the military and the potential of having one parent absent due to deployment or other assignments," said Hall. "Also, military students can be stationed anywhere around the world, so level of services available for mental health support can vary widely.”

The SEAS Project has been supporting student support personnel (counselors, psychologists and nurses) at military schools since its inception in 2016, but with the additional support will able to expand their services to all educators who serve military-connected children, including those attending civilian public schools. Project investigators will evaluate previously created materials, create new ones, and evaluate their effectiveness. Additionally, the expanded SEAS project will focus more specifically on preventing suicide and self-harm; violent threat behaviors; and problematic sexual behaviors. 

“With the passing of the Every Student Succeeds Act, educators are now being required to emphasize social-emotional adjustment for all students as it supports academic and other long-term positive outcomes,” said Hall. “Educational professionals deal with a myriad of challenges with students in terms of social-emotional risk, and every school will have different student populations and differing needs. We aim to equip these schools with the training and support to assist the students in need, and if additional outside support is need, be able to point them in the right direction.”

Other researchers on the project are co-investigator Daniel Perkins, founder and principal scientist of the Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State and professor of youth and family resiliency and policy; along with researchers in Hall’s lab, including Timothy Mazer, program manager; Brooke Kanaskie, project manager; Savanna Woika, research assistant, and several graduate assistants and undergraduate interns.

“I do not work alone on my projects,” said Hall. “I would not be able to do the breadth and depth of work required for a project of this type without the dedication, skill and passion of all of my team members. It has really been an incredible privilege to be able to work with so many others that are committed to serving the needs of military-connected students and I am grateful every day for my team.”