April is the Month of the Military Child and as April comes to an end, we want to share another personal spotlight on Heather Wojciuch, KIT’s Inclusion Support Center Manager.
Heather was driven to be an inclusion champion by her 15+ years of experience working in military child and youth programs and her desire to find ways to include children with challenging behaviors and disabilities in those environments. Yearning for some career-broadening, KIT become the right fit in 2017. Heather now serves as KIT’s Inclusion Support Center Manager and leads a team of specialists who coach and teach individuals who work in daycares, after school programs, and recreational activities.
“Inclusion is building a community where everyone can learn and grow.”
While working in the military childcare setting, Heather found a passion for staff development and family education. She began to focus on leading programs and families in partnership to support the success of all children and youth. She also has an eagerness for helping people build their resilience skills. Heather is committed to building a community of support for children and youth of varying interests and abilities. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology.
Words from Heather
Celebrating the Month of the Military Child is personal for me and my family. You see, we are a military family. My husband has been active-duty Air Force for 22 years, and I have been a military spouse for 12 years. We have two amazing boys who are military children. There is a statistic that says, “the average military family will move six to nine times during a school career.” Our oldest son, who is 10 years old, has lived in four states and has attended three different elementary schools. These numbers do not include the number of military childcare facilities he attended. Some of our moves happened in the middle of the school year or we chose to live geographically separated so that a school year would not be interrupted. Although we are nearing the end of this military career, we are not finished, and more moves could be in our future.
“Our commitment as a family has always been to support each other and make decisions about this mobile life collectively.”
I continue to be in awe of the adaptability of my children. They embody resilience in so many ways! One aspect of our life that is invaluable is the opportunity to experience various cultures and to raise our children in diverse communities. We have been blessed to meet amazing people along this journey.
My commitment to supporting military children started much earlier than from the time I became a mom. I began working in Air Force Child and Youth Programs in 2001. I was a college student pursuing a degree in education, and I stumbled upon a job opportunity in a school-age program. What started as being a direct care staff, led to positions in management and training.
“Working with military families and children lit a spark in me. I wanted to be one of the community members who could provide stability for them.”
Interestingly enough – my childhood was very different. I lived in the same house for eighteen years and attended the same school for my entire school career (K-12), until I left for college. I lived a vastly different experience than my children and the children who I have supported for decades.
Through this work, I also saw that there were gaps in social services and inclusion practices for families who had children with identified disabilities and behavior concerns. The additional support needed to navigate new schools, new doctors, new therapists, and new systems is overwhelming. Not only did I see it outside of my own family, but I also live that experience with my own children.
“We have witnessed an increase in anxiety and social-emotional challenges in our son. Even the most resilient children can struggle with “fitting in” and making friends.”
In a way, a move can create an opportunity to reinvent oneself, but it can also create an identity crisis of sorts. Military children are impressionable. They might think, “How do I fit in here and remain true to who I am?”
Several years ago, a school principal once asked me why they should give military children special treatment. My response was simply this: “We are not asking for special treatment. We are asking for a choice and equal opportunity.” The dandelion is used to represent military children because they can bloom wherever the wind may carry their seeds. Our military children need a community of adults to cultivate that seed and nurture their growth. May we all strive to help every child reach their potential and bloom where they are planted!
If you are interested in learning more about the impacts of a mobile military life for children, you can review the results of a recent survey conducted by the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), here.