University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Psychology Students Team Up with Operation Military Kids in New Course

This fall students in psychology are getting a unique opportunity to examine child development within the context of military families and produce a project designed to further programming in support of “geographically dispersed” military children.   These are children whose parents are in the MA National Guard or Army, Air Force, Marine or Coast Guard Reserves living in regular cities, towns and neighborhoods throughout the Commonwealth.

The course, Children of the Military, is being taught in conjunction with a Junior Year Seminar at UMass entitled: Child, Family, and Community.  The co-instructors, Professor of Psychology Maureen Perry-Jenkins, a former CRF scholar, and Gretchen May, UMass Extension 4-H educator and director of  Operation Military Kids (OMK) in Massachusetts, have developed a course that examines how military life serves as a unique context for child development.

The primary aim of the course is to build on the material students learn in the Child, Family and Community class that examine how social contexts, such as  families, workplaces, neighborhoods and affect children’s development, and to consider how this theoretical framework helps us to examine the special case of child development within military families.

Another goal of the course is for students to understand the programming that takes place for military families through Operation Military Kids.  In order to achieve this goal, students will develop a project that will assist in the effort to support geographically dispersed military families and their children.  Over the course of the semester, students will develop an understanding of a child’s life in a geographically dispersed military family and the effects deployment on children and the family.  Additionally, they will research a new idea for working with those military families or develop a new program aimed at specific subgroups of military children.

Nationally, OMK supports children of geographically dispersed military service members before, during and after deployment by building statewide networks that educate citizens on the impact of deployment on communities, families and youth, as well as provide educational, recreational and social programs for children of military families.

In Massachusetts, OMK reaches of about 4000 military youth annually.  It also conducts community workshops to offer insight into military culture and ways to best provide support for military children and families, educational programs designed by and for teens to raise awareness of issues facing military families, and distribution of “Hero Packs” to children with deployed parents.  The “Hero Packs” are filled with gifts and a letter from a civilian young person thanking the military child for being a “hero-too”.  

For more information on the course and student projects, please contact Dr. Perry-Jenkins.