Dr. Becky Porter, President and CEO, Military Child Education Coalition® (MCEC®)
Our country finds itself in the midst of growing awareness and rejection of widespread racism, not simply among individuals, but more distressingly at a systemic level.
The result of this growing awareness is that it is becoming increasingly clear that being an individual of general good will is not sufficient to level the playing field for all members of our society. Indeed, parts of our society are constructed to thwart any good that might come from the individual level. Because of systemic racism and structures that have long been in place to sustain and strengthen the current balance of power, being an individual who is “not racist” is not enough. We must build an infrastructure and society that not only abhors inequities, but inspires and bolsters inclusivity.
The U.S. military is in many ways representative of American society. It employs citizens from a wide variety of races, religions, and ethnicities. It has been a leader in social change in the areas of integrating African Americans and women. Service members’ adherence to standards of Equal Opportunity are a part of their performance evaluations, and the equal treatment of others is regularly incorporated into training. Given that approximately 29% of the active duty military is comprised of non-white service members, we can extrapolate that a similar percentage (perhaps greater) of their children are also non- white (U.S. Department of Defense 2018 annual Demographics Report). The children of U.S. service members find themselves in a subset of American society that draws from across our population and brings together diverse people for a common cause.
Such a setting provides military children with a distinctive opportunity to bridge the gaps we often see among races, socioeconomic levels, and cultures. The Military Child Education Coalition® (MCEC) has long recognized this opportunity and, in 2004, developed the Student 2 Student® (S2S™) program that partners with schools (both Department of Defense and civilian) in order to provide students with the tools to thrive and succeed, in spite of numerous moves during their academic career.
The program’s core values of Leadership, Academics, Service, Finding the Way, and Relationships are integrated under an overarching principle of 100% Acceptance. Developed to facilitate military students’ transitions into a new school, the program welcomes all students to participate, regardless of their military affiliation or any other differences within the student body. The S2S program teaches students to lead change in a school by promoting what unifies us and not what divides us. The curriculum highlights that 100% Acceptance is getting to know that there is more to a person than their outside appearance. Their “inside” is what takes time for us to get to know and helps us to see the whole person. The leadership development program teaches participating children and youth at the elementary, middle, and high school levels that we can all serve our communities, across cultures and through meaningful relationships – drawing from an overarching respect for our differences and 100% acceptance in our schools and beyond.