(NAPLES, Italy) U.S. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden visited the Naples Middle High School to speak with Department of Defense students and families onboard the Naval Support Activity (NSA) Naples Support Site Nov. 1, 2021. Dr. Biden, who has an extensive background in education, visited the school as part of the White House initiative Joining Forces, which supports military and veteran families, caregivers and survivors.
“One of the main goals is to help people understand what it’s like to be a military child, and to get kids like you the support that you all deserve.” said Biden during her speech at the pep rally event in the school’s gym. “I’ve worked on military families for a decade now and on bases at schools like this one, at the White House and in communities across the states.”
In speaking with other students, I’ve heard what it’s like to work so hard to become captain of the sports team or the lead in the school play only to have to say goodbye and realize that maybe the next school the student attends doesn’t have that program, said Biden.
“It is such a pleasure and an honor to host Dr. Jill Biden at our NSA Naples Middle High School,” said Capt. James Stewart, commanding officer, NSA Naples. “For the past year and a half, our students and our families persevered through lockdowns, canceled events, and postponed celebrations. These military families continued to show their resilience. There’s no better way to celebrate our return to in-person events than having a guest speaker who is part of a military family and understands the challenges and rewards of this military life.”
Italy was one of the first countries to go into lockdown in Europe, mandating a strict quarantine for nearly 75 days. Residents could only leave their houses for work, medical necessities, grocery shopping, and other emergencies.
“The first time we went into lockdown, it was really stressful for everyone because we didn’t know what was going on, and we didn’t know when we were going to be back into school, and we were all isolated from each other,” said Cadet Lt. Cmdr. Jazlynn Ballman, cadet commanding officer, of the Naples Middle High School Navy Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, who introduced Biden on stage at the pep rally. “We didn’t know how things were going to go, and we were all stressed out because we were worried about the pandemic while school was on top of us.”
Under strict COVID-19 mitigation measures, students were given the chance to hear Biden speak – one of the first events of its kind in over 18 months.
The pep rally involved the school’s Navy Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) Color Guard presenting the National Ensign, a performance from the school’s choir and band, and a special congratulations to the school’s undefeated volleyball team. Because of COVID-19 mitigations, only some students were in attendance, but each student could bring one guest from their home. Also, Biden’s speech was livestreamed into each class room, allowing everyone the opportunity to watch the event.
Additionally, the First Lady stopped into two classrooms for a surprise visit with students from the robotics and culinary classes.
“I’ve also heard so many of the great parts of this journey,” said Biden. “The chance to experience life in a foreign country, and meet people from around the world learning to adapt to any situation and finding out you really are capable of handling so much more than you ever thought.”
I first launched Joining Forces initiative in April 2011 with First Lady Michele Obama, to inspire, educate and encourage action from both the public and private sector to ensure that service members, veterans and their families have the tools they need to succeed throughout their lives, said Biden.
In 2016, the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI), a college readiness program, fulfilled its commitment with Joining Forces to expand into 200 military-connect schools, providing more than 60,000 military-connected students. This program broadens access to rigorous Advanced Placement classes in math, science and English.
“In 2018, DoDEA-Europe (Department of Defense Education Activity) implemented a strategic approach to increase AP course offerings and enrollment,” said Dr. Michelle Howard-Brahaney, the DoDEA Superintendent of Europe South. “As a result of this new approach, the Region has seen an increase in both the number of students enrolled in AP courses and AP exams administered. In 2020, at Naples Middle High School for example, 178 students participated in AP courses, representing an increase of 30 students over the prior year.”
The 178 students – representing 53% of the student population – took 276 exams, which is 52 more exams than the prior year, said Howard-Brahaney. Life overseas as a military-connected student certainly has its fair share of challenges. DoDEA operates 160 accredited schools, many of which are located in 11 countries.
According to DoDEA, the average child in a military family will move six to nine times during a school career, which is three times more frequently than non-military families – not to mention the added difficulties military children face when one or both parents deploy.
“To the students, I hope the lessons you learn make you strong, wise, kind and courageous,” said Biden. “The experiences you’ve had are the gifts you have to give. To the parents, you’ve heard your kids’ stories, you’ve seen how strong and resilient they are, you’ve seen how they’ve adapted. Walking in here and just the energy and how they all came together, and the excitement of it all, this truly is a family at this school, and I want to thank you so much for asking me to be your guest.”
NSA Naples is an operational ashore base that enables U.S., allied, and partner nation forces to be where they are needed, when they are needed to ensure security and stability in Europe, Africa, and Southwest Asia.