BETHESDA, Md. --
The Department of Defense Education Activity director urged recipients of the 2012 educational grant program today to push the envelope in developing programs that ultimately will benefit all military schoolchildren.
Marilee Fitzgerald opened the 2012 DODEA grant kickoff meeting here by recognizing the challenges children face as they move between schools when their military parents change duty stations.
As these children make physical and emotional adjustments to as many as eight schools between kindergarten and high school graduation, Fitzgerald said, they shouldn?t have to lose out on educational opportunities in the process.
?That is what this grant program is about,? she told teachers and school officials from across the country selected to receive the 2012 grants. ?It is about extending those opportunities to help our children continue their academic careers so they are not disrupted.?
Since 2009, DODEA has awarded 186 grants totaling $214 million. About 80 percent of the grants have gone to support STEM -- science, technology, education and mathematics -- projects. Others have funded foreign language and advanced-placement programs and student-support services.
This year, the Defense Department added extra funding to the program, enabling DODEA to award more than $50 million in grants to 44 recipients.
Fitzgerald called that measure, particularly in light of Pentagon budget constraints, a testament to DOD leaders? commitment to military families and children.
?They said, ?Do you know what? These budget cuts are not going to come on the backs of our children,?? she told the 2012 grant recipients.
The DODEA educational grant program helps to ensure that military children enter a level playing field in the educational system, Fitzgerald said. ?This grant is about saying everybody gets a shot,? she said.
?Our military families make many, many sacrifices on behalf of this nation each and every day,? she told the grant recipients. ?And we are committed -- as I am sure you are -- ? to ensuring that the education of their children will not be among their sacrifices.?
As they return to their districts and advance their programs, Fitzgerald urged the educators to explore new educational concepts so they can discover those that prove to be the most effective and promising.
?You are the incubators. That?s what I see you as,? she told them. ?The goal is to try to find the absolute best programs ? that will have a powerful impact on our children.?
Those lessons, she said, will benefit other children throughout the military and the U.S. educational system. ?We want to prove something by [these projects],? she added. ?We want you to help us find something that can be extrapolated to all our schools.?
Kathy Schofield and Donna Wethington attended the kickoff meeting, representing the Clay County School District in Green Cove Springs, Fla., which received a $2.3 million grant last year and a $675,000 grant this year.
The funds have enabled the district to expand the STEM coursework it provides to its students, many whose parents serve at nearby Naval Air Station Jacksonville, they explained. It also enabled them to introduce popular robotics technology that promotes teamwork and leadership as well as problem-solving abilities.
This year, Clay County School District will build on that success by expanding its efforts into the middle-school curriculum, Wethington said. In addition, some of the funds will go to social and emotional support initiatives, including a peer program designed to welcome new students and ease their transition into the school.
?This [grant] program goes a long way in supporting our military children,? Fitzgerald said. ?It is one of the rare opportunities where you can see the direct impact and the fact that you are making a difference.?