There are nearly 100,000 California public school students with a parent serving in the military. Advocates say educators have done a poor job of supporting these kids at school through the stressful times before, during and after a parent goes off to war. But with the help of military families, that's changing. Reporter: Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
It's been three days since Corey and Rita Beal moved into their new house in north Orange County. Their three kids are settled into their rooms, the four floor-to-ceiling bookshelves are up in the living room, but their wedding pictures aren't hung yet.
Rita Beal says there's really nothing new about moving into a new house.
"Well over a dozen probably in the last 10 years," Beal says.
"This is house No. 12?" KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez asks.
"Probably house No. 12," she says. Corey interjects, saying this is around house No. 8.
"No, no. There were three of them in Fort Lewis," Rita says.
Her husband Corey has been in the Army for 13 years. In that time the family has lived on and off military bases.
On this day the Beal's are doing something they haven't done a lot over the years. They're walking together to pick up their second grade daughter from school.
Corey Beal deployed twice with an infantry unit to Iraq and Afghanistan. He saw combat. Six friends died, and many more from the unit were killed.
"As painful as the separations are, probably the deployments, just because everything that you're doing in Afghanistan or Iraq or Haiti, or wherever your country sends you, it's just, you do things here that seem important... maybe aren't necessarily that important," Corey Beal says. "You do things over there, and they really do have an impact on lots of other people other than yourself."
He says deployments have been the hardest thing about his military service because of stress it puts on his family. His wife says the kid's schoolwork has suffered.
"Our daughter that we're picking up now, only in second grade, 7-years-old, but the differences between what the requirements were in school back in New York, last month, and just up the road in Cypress, six months ago, are all completely different," Rita Beal says.
Her two older boys have had a particularly rough time with the moves. Teachers and principals, unaware of military life, have made things worse.
When her oldest son was 7-years-old, she said, a public school teacher in Washington state told the entire class that a boy was absent because his father had been killed in combat.
The school was on a military base, and nearly every other student in the class had a father in the same unit.
Rita Beal says she was shocked, and right then she decided she needed to educate schools about military culture and the stress of military deployment on families. At the school her kids attended last year, she formed a PTA committee and organized a Veterans Day event.
"We actually donated a new flag. And hey, you know what? My husband's command sergeant major, he would like to come present it personally," Rita says. "Hey, we've also got a bunch of soldiers at the unit that would love to come down."
When the Beal's reach their daughter's new school, 7-year-old Cecilia runs up with a waist-high hug. She's wearing a Halloween carnival mask.
"Well, we had the parade today, first thing in the morning, and I was going to be a peacock," Cecilia says.
"How many schools have you been in?" Guzman-Lopez asks.
"About two, I mean three," Cecelia answers.
"Four, pretty close, pretty close," Cecilia's mom says laughing.
Rita Beal says the principal at this school hasn't been as open to her ideas for ways to support military families.
Few schools or districts keep a tally of students with parents in the military, but in Orange County, where the Beals live now, there are efforts to do so.
"So that the schools are serving and helping the families as they adjust," Richard Riegel, head of student services with the Orange County Department of Education says. "It can help coordinate services to perhaps have parent support groups, children support groups."
His office is also creating an online course for educators about the military deployment cycle, understanding military culture and family dynamics.
A lot of credit, Riegel said, should go to University of Southern California professor Ron Astor, who teaches Masters in social work classes.
Astor is leading a class for nearly three dozen graduate students at USC's San Diego County satellite classroom. On this day the students heard from Navy and Marine staffers. They also talked in breakout sessions about Veterans Day activities at their schools.
"I talked with the principal about having... I really wanted to do a Marine Corps birthday cake cutting ceremony because my school's on base, but I guess with all the wellness initiatives, they're not ready to have cake at school," one student says laughing.
The students serve as counselors working with the children of military families in 140 south Orange County, Riverside County and San Diego County schools.
Professor Ron Astor says the program is making a difference.
"I believe it's a debt that's owed by civilian society for the 10 years where they have been a little bit business as usual, while this very small group has been carrying the war on their backs," Astor says.
Astor wants to grow the program. He recently published a set of four guides for parents and educators based on the research that's come out of the counseling program. He's working with new school districts that have called wanting a social work intern to help their students.