Today’s post comes from European PTA President, Kris Garst. She has lived overseas on for a total of five and a half years, and is currently living in Grafenwoehr, Germany, with her husband and three sons. She has been involved with the PTA in Europe since her oldest child started Kindergarten. Kris’s post seeks to bring an understanding of the challenges and successes of military students and families, as well as why it is important to support PTA efforts towards military families both overseas and in the states.
“Wait, there’s a PTA in EUROPE???”
During trips to National PTA events over the last few years, I’ve run into lots of people who are shocked to find out that PTA reaches as far as Europe! In fact, the European Congress of the National Parent Teacher Association has been advocating for the children in DoDEA (Department of Defense Education Activity) schools on U.S. military installations throughout Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, Bahrain and Turkey since 1958. We proudly serve the families of military members, government civilians, government contractors, and others who fall under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Defense throughout the European theater.
One Voice for the Military Child
As many of you already know, April is the Month of the Military Child, an opportunity to celebrate the amazing kids whose resilience and ability to adapt to the many changes of military life serve as an inspiration to us all. Through deployments, frequent moves, and separation from friends and family, they support their families and each other as they, along with their military parents, serve our nation. Over the past 56 years, the European PTA has been a strong voice for military children and families. We’ve advocated for important change in DoDEA schools, such as the presence of school nurses in every school, regardless of size, and the opportunity for our students to receive healthy, hot meals via the Federal school lunch program. Beyond that, we work, from the local level and up, to strengthen the sense of community that is so important when military families are far from home and loved ones, supporting school programs for military kids, fostering family engagement, and even bringing little bits of home overseas via programs like the Scripps National Spelling Bee and the National PTA Reflections Program.
Not Your typical PTA…
While our overall mission is the same, European PTA Units are a little bit different than the typical PTA Unit in the States. We operate as official Private Organizations on the military bases and posts where our schools are located. This gives us permission to operate within the military community, but it also adds a whole new level of rules, regulations, and reporting! Advocating for our children overseas can also be a little bit different than the typical stateside experience. We don’t have a traditional local or state level of government, and our schools are funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and regulated by DoDEA Europe at both the ‘state’ and district levels. When action alerts come through from National PTA, our members must contact legislators based on their official State of Legal Residence in the U.S. (the state that is considered their residency for state income tax and voting purposes). Our members come from all over the United States and beyond, so this means that the EPTA’s response to those action calls can blanket the entire country!
“But what about all of those PTA action alerts- do they have anything to do with us over here?”
This is a question that we hear more often than you’d think! The Government Affairs team at National PTA has been a great help over the past year, helping us to pinpoint legislation that applies specifically to our overseas military community, but some of the National PTA action alerts that come through may not seem like they apply to our students and our schools at first glance. After all, a lot of education legislation and the funding that goes with it is connected to the Department of Education, and our schools don’t qualify because we belong to the DoD.
However, one of the realities of military life is movement. The average military child could be in as many as six to nine schools from grade K-12, so today’s DoDEA student in Germany or Italy could soon become a student in Florida, New Jersey, Texas, Colorado, or any one of the many states that host military facilities in the United States. Simply put, our students could be your students in the very near future! Because of this, we strive to impress the importance of taking the long view and of working toward the best possible situation for our children on both sides of the Atlantic.