Pete and Edie Freudenberger founded the Blue Star Academy, which helps serve some of the unique educational needs of military connected students. They help educators understand the demands placed on children with military parents. This could include things like deployments, frequent moves, etc.
Especially important is the training offered to educators who are not near a military base. Educators who teach students with National Guard or Reserve parents may not realize that a student has some unique needs that other students may not have.
As children of military families are an important aspect of the overall wellbeing of veterans and service members, this episode has some great information about those unique needs and how Blue Star Academy can help your military connected student.
Links & Resources
- Blue Star Academy Online
- Blue Star Academy on Facebook
- Blue Star Academy on Instagram
- Blue Star Academy on Twitter
Scott DeLuzio: 00:00:00 Thanks for tuning in to a Drive On Podcast where we're focused on giving hope and strength to the entire military community, whether you're a Veteran active duty guard Reserve, or a family member, this podcast we'll share inspirational stories and resources that are useful to you. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio. And now let's get on with the show.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:00:22 Hey everybody. Today, my guests are Pete and Edie Freudenberger. Pete and Edie, founded the Blue Star Academy, which helps serve some of the unique educational needs of military connected students. And one of the reasons I wanted to have them on the show is because we often talk about the needs of Veterans and service members. but we haven't talked much about their kids on the show and it's part of the family. They have a significant impact on the Veteran or service member, who we typically talk about on this podcast. And if those children's needs aren't being met, then it's likely that there's an added stress on the rest of the family, including the Veteran and the service member and potentially their spouse as well. So with that, welcome to the show, Pete and Edie. Why don't you, tell us a little bit about yourselves and your backgrounds.
Pete Freudenberger 00:01:11 Hi, I am Pete Freudenberger, really glad to be here. I am an Army Veteran, a licensed clinical social worker, and really have dedicated my life to working with the military community. And one of the things that I'm really excited about getting into today is talking about the family. Because as you said, that's certainly an underserved portion of the population in the military, right?
Edie Freudenberger: And I'm his wife, Edie and my affiliation with the military is through my husband and I'm not affiliated, but he's clearly a Veteran. I've experienced motherhood with children of a Veteran and I'm a spouse of a Veteran. So I have my own interactions with the VA, with the Veteran community, Pete is so active in the community that we attend parades. We go to events, we try to keep our kids up to date on what's going on. So that's kind of my affiliation, my profession as an educator. So Pete's the social worker and I'm the educator. I have my doctorate in education. and I have focused on military connected children or students.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:02:28 Yeah, that's great. And so these joint forces that you have with both of your backgrounds really makes logical sense that you guys would come together and combine your efforts together to help out these military children. And honestly, when you first reached out to me about being on the show, I didn't really know that there was anything unique about the educational needs of military connected students. And I'm sure that might be true of some of the listeners as well, which is again why I wanted to have you on the show to raise awareness for these issues. My son was only about a year and a half old when I got out of the Army. So I never really had to consider his educational needs with regards to my military affiliation, while I was in. So what are some of the things that your organization, the Blue Star Academy does to bridge the gap for these students?
Edie Freudenberger: 00:03:27 So just to give a little bit of background, like you said, you didn't know a lot of people don't know, there are about 2 million military connected children in the US; about 80% of them are in the public school system. And that's not necessarily including kids who are related to Veterans or Veteran connected. We're not sure that they're counted as well as military connected, meaning active, or at least close to active duty. So maybe recently deployed or just serving. It also is not clear if that includes the numbers of National Guard or Reserves connected children. So again, I'm giving you numbers, but it's only what we count. The children that are being counted, some of the issues that they face in our transition. So, you know, military connected children move, many more times than a traditional student.
Edie Freudenberger 00:04:22 It can be up to, I mean, I've interviewed children who moved up to 12 times in their K through 12 career. So that's pretty dramatic. All the things that come with that you can imagine, they can't keep with the same friends. They can't necessarily have the same relationships with their teachers. They have to relearn the culture of the school. Logistically their courses may not necessarily maintain the extracurriculars. So when they go to apply to college, their transcript and their resume may look a little funky. And then how do they explain that? And they may not get into the schools they want to get into because of it. And this affects their grade point average. So these are all identified needs and issues that children face.
Edie Freudenberger 00:05:14 What I did was start researching the children that were not being identified that were somewhat invisible. So maybe better connected, maybe related to someone in the Reserves or National Guard. We don't actually know all of the issues that they face talking to them. I think they have some identity issues. Where do I belong? I'm not really this kid who's got a dad who's deployed; but I am affiliated. And I'll just give you an example. When we register our children at our local public school, there are some questions that are mandated by law in terms of military connection, so that they can identify us as a military family. Well, I don't fit under those questions when I answer for my children. It's do you have a spouse that's actively serving, are you actively serving?
Edie Freudenberger 00:06:03 And when I can't answer those questions in the affirmative, then I have to actually check a box that says I have no military affiliation and my children have none. So it's really difficult for me to check that box and say, I have no affiliation whatsoever. Forget about me and know that my kids go to school that way. So it spans the gamut in terms of issues that they face.
Pete Freudenberger: And one biggie that I wanted to piggyback on is the negative impacts on mental health and that's my specialty. So there are a lot of negative impacts, as you can imagine, with some of the challenges that Edie was talking about, such as the loss of friends continuously, continuously losing your teacher, continuously having to relearn school culture, all those things come with a cost to mental health. And if there are not supports around that as well, then you not only have the child experiencing those issues, but then not having the mental health capacity to do it in a healthy way.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:07:06 Right. And growing up, I moved a few times, as a kid not in a military context, just regular, we moved from one town to another and so I had a new school, new teachers, new friends that I had to make and being the new kid sucks. Let's just face it. It's not a fun experience. And like the kid that you were talking about who moved 12 times in their K through 12 career, if you want to call it that, they were the new kid 12 times, and that is not a comfortable situation, but also with the National Guard and Reserves, where the school that the child goes to, maybe so far away from an active duty base, where the teachers would be more aware and more sensitive to the fact that a parent might be deployed or be away for long stretches of time at a school or whatever the case may be. Some of these teachers, and to no fault of their own, they really don't know a whole lot about the military culture and what is expected of these children. And bringing up these issues to the teachers and things so that they can be a little bit more sensitive to these kids, is probably a huge help I would imagine.
Edie Freudenberger 00:08:31 Yeah. It's interesting that you said that because one of our main focuses, especially during COVID, because it's so hard to interact with schools right now, administrators are overwhelmed. Students are overwhelmed and parents are overwhelmed. It's been hard to do direct service by choice, because I don't want to add to that overwhelming feeling. But one of the things that we have been focusing on is developing professional development curricula for educators, so that they can understand more about military connected or Veteran connected children, especially Veteran connected or National Guard and Reserves, because that's just not highlighted the same way. It's a national conversation. I think it's coming from many organizations right now that we need to educate educators, but our focus is really on those school districts. Like you said, that aren't near a base and they don't already have that information. And we may not even know that they don't know what data. I would say to your audience, if your children are in a district and you're experiencing some of that where there's some disconnect between what your teachers in the district overall understand, that's the kind of thing that potentially we can come and help with and certainly reach out to us on that. That's something that we're trying to focus on very heavily right now is to build that training.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:09:53 Yeah. That's great. So what does some of that training look like for some of these educators and potentially even for the families and the students themselves, if that's something that you cover as well.
Edie Freudenberger 00:10:10 Right. It's interesting because as I was building the training or as I build different curricula, I have to take a step back and say, okay, what's the national conversation about the military? What is the civilian approach to the military and how can we bridge that gap to have a better relationship and a better understanding so they can better educate. So how deep do you go? How much do you explain? I mean, I would think that providers of any type of education are not necessarily well-versed on the structure of the military, on what it means to be active, versus Veteran, versus National Guard, versus Reserve. I mean, a lot of people hear about the National Guard right now, helping with vaccines and this and that. I don't think people really understand what it means and what it means to serve, on a weekend every month or to be called suddenly for the Reserves.
Edie Freudenberger 00:11:10 So all of those pieces have to be included that are not really about educating the children but giving that background and then moving into how you can help identify these children that maybe are like mine, who have to check the box to say not affiliated. You also can't have the preconceived notions about those children, that they are all the same. So it is a challenge to try and provide information to educators but just giving them a basic understanding and making them aware of a population of students that are coming in and out of their classrooms, and giving them the tools to be able to maybe identify those children. I'll give you an example. I interviewed a nine-year-old girl whose father was in the National Guard and he was deployed and she would come to school every day with a Teddy bear that her dad had given her. She dressed this Teddy bear in Army fatigue uniform.
Edie Freudenberger 00:12:10 So he was sort of symbolic of her dad, but she left him in the car every day and tells her mother to take him where they go to work, because she knew she couldn't bring it into school. So this child is walking up to the school door, leaving her father and the thoughts on that behind and walking into school. So how can the teachers identify that and support her better? And that just wasn't something the mother ever thought about. She never really thought about that they just aren't doing, they've never asked me about it. They're not doing anything. It puts the onus on the parent. but it's a tough situation and it's hard to educate enough but just providing tools, hopefully and some awareness can help.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:12:55 Yeah. And I think the awareness is enough because I don't think there's any teachers out there who are intentionally ignoring the needs of their students. If they're not aware of any special needs that are available with the student, at service, military connected, or what have you, they're just not going to be able to offer that support until maybe six months down the road. They eventually figure something out because, okay, why is this kid acting differently from all the others? And they eventually unravel everything to figure out what's actually going on. And at that point, the school year is almost over and it's almost too late at that point. So, getting in from the beginning, maybe improving those questionnaires so that you can talk about Veteran status, National Guard, Reserve status, that type of thing on those questionnaires. So that families like yours don't necessarily have to check off no military affiliation because that's not true.
Pete Freudenberger 00:14:00 And it's not helpful. So one of the other things that I also wanted to say is, you talked a little bit about the staff, the actual teachers. one of the things that we also want to be doing is talking to school counselors. School counselors are oftentimes the glue that kind of holds issues like this together, if there's a behavior issue or a kid needs extended time for testing or certain types of things like that, because maybe the mental health impact of mom or dad's service is really impacting them. Like, having that counselor on board too, that there's, so that it's a shared burden. Everything's not on that teacher because we already know teachers are saying and are very, very overtaxed
Pete Freudenberger 00:14:52 already. So we want to be cognizant of that as well.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:14:57 Yeah. And you bring up a good point, when some school districts have overcrowded classrooms and they're dealing with 30 or more different students with all the unique, different individual needs. They may not necessarily catch on to this type of stuff. And so being aware of the fact that there is a student with maybe a parent deployed, or something like that, there's obvious mental health issues that come along with that. And they are going to be distracted. They're not going to be focused on taking that test or whatever. And so maybe they do need a little more time or a little extra support in that area. So, you're absolutely right there. Let's talk about some of the resources that are available for military connected students. I know you had talked about some of the mental health resources that are available and different organizations that can help out with the military connected students, what are some of those, and maybe some of the other educational type resources that are out there.
Pete Freudenberger 00:16:12 Yeah. So when you talk about mental health, I've actually worked for Cohen Veterans network, who operates nationally. and then they have clinics all over the country. Basically the goal is to have 25 of them across the country, and that they may expand that over time, but the brilliance behind Cohen Veterans network is that it's evidence-based, like super high quality mental health care that's at no or low cost to anybody in the family. So it could be a caregiver. It doesn't have to be a blood relative. You could have served one day, you could have bad paper, bad conduct discharge. They are a fabulous resource for people, all over the country. There are a lot of other organizations that support families like Operation home front does a lot of stuff around supplies and easing the burden on parents in terms of some of the costs, and some of the logistics that really we're kind of, as parents, we have five kids. So we've been through the, get the school supplies for multiple kids and you get all these lists. And so I think they help with little things; that's not all that they do, but that is one of the things that I know the most about operation home front, that we've actually interacted with them on. They're also a lot of organizations that the primary entry point is the Veteran, in terms of mental health. And the kids can also
Pete Freudenberger 00:17:50 be a part of that over time, but in terms of who's available out there for students right now, the MCC, which is the Military Child Education Coalition, they're really trying to branch out beyond just active duty, to the Veterans space as well. They promote, they have an initiative that they've been promoting this purple app, or Purple Star, I think it's called. There's an initiative that is bringing States on board to change that identification method. And maybe to add more, I know Texas added, “are you Veteran connected? Do you have a parent, who was injured in the military?” So they have more identifiers and they're promoting that list. Our families is an organization that does a lot of surveys and a lot of research in the community to try and identify pain points;
Pete Freudenberger 00:18:48 and they do a lot for children during the summer now with COVID. They were just telling us about some virtual camps that they're doing this summer, and they usually do blue star museums where military families can get into museums at low cost or for free. We've also been partnering and we were just just doing a collaboration with some of the ESOS, and one of them was called Cape coral? They basically offer summer camps for military kids. And I think they're in North Carolina and they were working with an organization that supports those with service connected disabilities or severe disabilities. So they're all kind of interconnected and supportive in terms of education. like I said, there's legislation that is really trying to promote more identification in the schools
Pete Freudenberger 00:19:49 and hopefully that will make a difference. There's a new initiative that is actually an old initiative that existed quite a few years ago. And it is coming back right now, called joining forces, they're supporting military families. And one of their initiatives that they've announced is to support the educational needs of military connected children. So that's a public private partnership that hopefully will start to trickle down a little bit more. One of the things they do is help at the college level to teach pre-service teachers more about what we were just talking about and how to understand the population better.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:20:30 Right. So, those are a lot of resources. I'm sure that's just scratching the surface. There are a lot of organizations out there who are doing similar things to raising awareness and helping the teachers and the families, the students out with their unique needs in the schools. When we identify some of these students, let's just say it's a National Guard situation where they're going to a public school far away from any active duty base. I'm sure it's not going to be a one-off because there's plenty of soldiers or airmen who are located in that area. They may be spread out over many different towns, and in a much wider geographic area.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:21:34 So, it's not going to be a one-off case necessarily, but they're going to have much fewer in each school. I guess our hard way to phrase this, like there has to be a balance somewhat to be able to help out these kids without necessarily rewriting the book on how to educate kids either. So, is there some kind of fine balance that you guys have found that has been able to help out with these situations?
Pete Freudenberger 00:22:09 So, I mean, as a corollary for me, I'm glad you brought this up. I was thinking about this as we were talking earlier, as someone who's worked in a school before, and I think about things like first aid CPR, first aid, a lot of the staff have CPR first aid training. So you know how to give breaths, you know how to give compressions, but you don't have to do that every day. You just have to have that in the back of your mind, you have to recertify and you have to have that base knowledge to be able to say, “Oh my gosh, someone's in crisis.” Then your skills kick in and you can help. So that's how I see our role in terms of educating the educator is to not necessarily say, “okay, well, you got to do X, Y, and Z because this student is military affiliated.”
Pete Freudenberger 00:22:57 I think it's much more about education, understanding and having the knowledge, or at least knowing who to talk to. So maybe even just making sure that the school counselors in an isolated school district, like this, has a direct line to the Veteran service officer for that County, because every County in the nation, I believe, has a Veteran service officer. And that person is usually a purveyor or connector to get people to where they need to be. So that doesn't mean we're not trying to train full on military children certified case workers. We're certainly not doing bootcamp, but it's really more of just giving a base. I mean, and as we develop our curriculum and training, we will certainly have more advanced topics. So if people want to know about suicide in the military community, or they want to know about deployments and what they look like and how long they are and where can people go and what does the guard do and why is the guard different, how is it different, little things like that.
Pete Freudenberger 00:24:03 So when a kid comes up and says, “Oh yeah, my dad's in the Guard.” They know, okay. Guard is not active duty, and this is how it's different. So that's really important to me. That's for your audience too. I think that really gives a good illustration of what we're trying to attempt to do for these teachers is not, we definitely don't want to overburden them. I know they have so many responsibilities right now. We just want to give them a little bit of base knowledge so that they can, when along with a system to identify them. So that once a teacher says, Oh, Johnny comes in, I know he's military affiliated. You don't have to say, Oh, everybody who's military affiliated, raise your hand. We don't want it to be like that.
Pete Freudenberger 00:24:44 We want it to be, the teacher knows Johnny is military affiliated, and then maybe connect the family and the family can talk with the teacher. If there's a problem, just to have a little bit of knowledge and understanding similar to what you would do with, I don't want to correlate kids in the military with kids with disabilities, but it's a very unique need that needs to be met. Not all the time you don't have to. I think that's really a good illustration of that.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:25:14 Yeah, that makes perfect sense. And it's like you were saying, it's not a wholesale rewrite of how they do things. It's just a little bit of knowledge that they can keep in their back pocket. And when the situation comes up that there's a military connected student, they can dip into that knowledge. They can use the resources that are available. and as new resources become available, obviously, that will be something that they can learn about as well. But at least they know that there is something unique and special about some of these children who might need a little extra help in their education. So I think that's great.
Edie Freudenberger 00:26:01 Yeah. And I'm very involved in the space. And a lot of times it surprises me how little people that are very connected to the community know about these resources.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:26:12 And, you know, like I said, I've been a soldier. I was in the military community. On a regular basis, I talk to Veterans through this podcast and other things that I do. When you guys reached out, this was news to me that there were any unique, special considerations for military children and military connected children. And so I feel like this is a great way to bring up those issues to the schools, to the educators, the counselors, the parents, and the students themselves, so that they know how to deal with these situations. Is there anything else that maybe we didn't touch on that you wanted to talk about and cover before we wrap up,
Pete Freudenberger 00:27:19 Two things quickly? I think this is the one I wanted to, as we're talking about resources, I think it's really important that I put a plug in for the national resource directory that the VA maintains. We're listed in the national resource directory. And if there's a family out there looking for resources that we might not be best suited to help with, that is an absolutely robust listing of agencies and organizations that you can search by your need. So a national resource directory is something that I would encourage people to look up. And then, just how to reach us if you guys want to reach out the best email to reach us, that would be [email protected]. And we're also on social media as well. If people want to try to follow some of the stuff that we're doing.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:28:12 I will have links to all of the resources that you two mentioned throughout the episode, as well as your website and social media links, email, all that stuff. I'll put it in the show notes so people who listen to this episode down the line, will be able to know where to go to find some of these resources. Google isn't always their friend, they may not be able to find them quite as easily as they might like to. I'll have links to all of that in the show notes. It has been an absolute pleasure to speak with you today and to learn more about the needs of the military connected children who are in schools and need that little bit of extra assistance and guidance with their education path. So, thank you very much to both of you for taking the time to talk to me and the audience about the unique, special needs that come with military connected children.
Edie Freudenberger 00:29:18 Thanks for sharing. I appreciate it. It was an absolute pleasure. And thanks again so much for the work that you do, Scott.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:29:26 Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website DriveOnPodcast.com. We're also on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube at Drive On Podcast.