“Being a military kid is a bit lonely. Your dad has to go away for a long time. But being apart makes us closer.” This is how third-grader Elena Banzon from Michael Anderson Elementary School in Spokane, Washington, describes her life as a military child. When the Air Force calls her dad away, Elena says she gives her mom “so much love” because she knows it is the “best thing” one does for family.
Elena’s essay was honored at the recent opening of the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) Student Art and Writing Exhibit at U.S. Department of Education (ED) headquarters in Washington, D.C., where a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to recognize the creative work of military-connected children.
This was the third MCEC exhibit opening at ED since the organization’s worldwide Call for the Arts program began in 2002. It has drawn thousands of participants who were inspired by their military experiences to create works reflecting a shared understanding of mobility, family separation, transition, resiliency, and service to one’s country. This year’s opening drew students, parents, teachers, ED employees and veterans, and arts educators and advocates.
Maureen Dowling, director of ED’s Office of Nonpublic Education, where the Military Affairs Team resides, and a military child herself, described her family’s military experiences as a “catalyst for artistic creation and endeavors,” a benefit of separation.
Students who attended the opening also reflected on their challenges and opportunities in military-connected families.
Trace Lewis, a 12th-grader at Hayfield Secondary School (Hayfield) in Alexandria, Virginia, whose dad is in the Air Force, has moved multiple times. At the opening, Trace performed a passionate keyboard version of his composition “Jurassic.” He explained that making music and films are ways for him to cope with his family’s many moves: “All of the films I made, they’re like memories. When I move to a new place, it is an opportunity to make new memories.”
Madison Lewis, an 11th-grader at Hayfield and Trace’s sister, said the most difficult part of moving to new places is being unable to share memories with her classmates. These hardships led Madison to describe military children as “soldiers”— not because they possess the same “physical characteristics that soldiers have,” but because of the “sacrifices they make every day.”
Sommer Bauman, also an 11th-grader at Hayfield who sang the National Anthem at the opening, indicated that these sacrifices are so important because they are made “willingly and with a positive attitude.” This attitude is echoed in much of the artwork present in the exhibit, including in Kiersten Flach’s piece that portrays change as simply a part of her life — something to “live” and “love.”
Brigadier General (Ret) Earl Simms, vice chairman and secretary of the MCEC Board of Directors, shared his own story of sacrifice, which demonstrated the need for flexibility. His family made 14 moves and his children attended countless schools, creating many academic and social challenges.
The audience also heard from students involved in MCEC’s Student to Student (S2S) program, which brings military and civilian kids together to welcome new classmates and ease their transitions.
One S2S civilian student at Hayfield, Nana Gyebi, talked about how her painful transition from Ghana to the U.S. inspired her involvement in this program. “I never had the opportunity that S2S gives, so it makes me glad to help others go through the same thing I did,” she said. Madison Lewis, co-leader of S2S along with Nana, says that S2S helped her “cope with her family’s choice” to allow her father to be stationed in North Dakota while the rest of the family remained in Virginia. “S2S is like one big family,” Madison said, it helps students feel connected.
The students’ discussion, writing, performances, and artwork communicate that being connected is what makes separation from their parents and previous homes possible. And they remind us that home is not one concrete location but can be wherever family and friends are.
The traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony, which has been a part of ED’s Student Art Exhibit Program for 13 years, officially opened the exhibit to the public, which will remain through April 2017.
Photo at the top: Students cut the ribbon on the “America’s Children” exhibit.
Molly Howlett is an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.
All photos are by U.S. Department of Education photographer Paul Wood. More photos from the event may be viewed at https://www.flickr.com/photos/128781046@N08/albums/72157681000123125/.
The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for more information about exhibiting, contact Jackye Zimmermann at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit https://www.ed.gov/student-art-exhibit/.