By the end of the year, some 40,000 American troops will return from Iraq as the United States pulls out of the war. While the homecoming will reunite families, students and parents often face an adjustment period.
An April study by the global think tank RAND Corp. found that students who had at least one parent deployed between 2002 and 2008 scored lower on reading tests than students who had both parents at home.
Life can be tough even for military children whose parents never saw combat: The average military child will attend between six and nine schools, according to the Council for State Governments, an organization that helps facilitate interstate compacts. The most important thing, experts say, is helping students keep continuity between moves.
"If your kid is struggling, it's important to recognize it early and get convoys of support around," says Mary Keller, president of the Military Child Education Coalition, a nonprofit focused on improving education for military children. "Make sure your child is engaged and in a healthy activity; make sure that child does not isolate themselves."
For 20 years, Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA), the country's largest youth organization, has provided a supportive community for military children. In 1991, BGCA partnered with the Department of Defense to serve the military families who live on the 387 U.S. military bases, in addition to members of BGCA's more than 1,200 clubs in the United States. Overall, the organization serves nearly 500,000 military children annually.
[Learn about a Boys & Girls Clubs campaign promoting high school graduation.]
"Many military youth show post-traumatic stress disorder [and] increased anxiety," says Terrill Wicks, the BGCA's vice president of military services and international projects. Wicks ran the organization's youth center at Guantanamo Bay. She says mentors at the clubs are specially trained to deal with the unique challenges military families face.
When students move during high school, lining up credits for graduation can be tough because standards vary by state. In many Boys & Girls clubs, extra summer or after-school credit is offered so that students can graduate on time.
"It happens so often that legislation has been put in place in some states," Wicks says. "If a student is a military child, [high schools] will accept out-of-state credits." Common Core State Standards adopted by 45 states should ease this problem in the coming years, according to a report by America's Promise Alliance, an organization focused on improving education for at-risk youth.
[Learn about the Alliance's list of states with the best communities for children.]
At BGCA's traditional clubs in America, children of military families are given "the opportunity to not be reminded daily that they are a military kid," Wicks says.
For parents, the clubs can be a lifesaver. Dawn Durette, of Bel Air, Md., says BGCA's programs for her three young children allowed her to work while her husband was stationed in Afghanistan.
"It was a huge relief to have some place they could go where I know they were safe and taken care of," she says.
Students who attend the clubs agree. Rio Shaune Harris, who lives on a base in Vogelweh, Germany, wrote on the BGCA website that the club was a place she could go to "be surrounded by people who I can relate to: other military children."