Making Memorial Day meaningful: supporting military-connected students.

Memorial Day is fast approaching – presenting educators who have students connected to the military with a range of challenges. Grief expert Dr. David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement and lead founding member of the Coalition to Support Grieving Students alongside the New York Life Foundation, shares tips for supporting these students around the holiday.

Memorial Day was established after the Civil War to honor those who had died while in military service. It is observed each year on the last Monday of May. While non-military families often see Memorial Day as the first celebration of summer, those connected to the military are likely to see it differently.

Military-connected students almost certainly attend your schools. There are nearly 2 million children of active service members—that is, with parents in active duty military, National Guard or Reserves. They live in communities across the nation. Over 80% attend public schools.

Things to Know

Here are some helpful things to consider if you are planning learning activities or other student events related to Memorial Day.

  • Memorial Day is a solemn day for most military families. Many spend it visiting cemeteries to place flowers or flags on graves. They may attend special programs remembering those who have died in service.
  • Children who have lost a loved one through a line-of-duty death often revisit powerful feelings of grief at this time of year.
  • Memorial Day is not the same as Veteran’s Day. While Veteran’s Day honors all who have served in our military, Memorial Day focuses particularly on those who have died in the line of duty. This distinction is quite important to military-connected children and their families.
  • The TAPS Good Grief Camp (supported by the New York Life Foundation) is a weekend experience offered over Memorial Day weekend to child survivors of service members who died in the line of duty.

Things to Do

To support military-connected children, especially those who are grieving a line-of-duty death, consider these steps.

  • Offer students opportunities to think about and discuss the serious and solemn qualities of Memorial Day.
  • If active service members or veterans are invited to speak to students at this time of year, ask them to acknowledge and address the deeper meanings of Memorial Day.
  • Support students’ efforts to attend events such as the Good Grief Camp.
  • If you know military-connected students, especially if they are grieving, reach out as Memorial Day approaches. Ask them how they’re doing. Ask whether Memorial Day brings up any thoughts or feelings they’d like to talk about. Let them know you’re thinking of them.
  • The Coalition to Support Grieving Students offers a range of free resources that can help educators learn more about supporting grieving students. They have just released a special module, Supporting Children and Family Survivors of Military Line-of-Duty Deaths, which will be helpful to any educator working with military-connected children.