Dara Bender, her children (left to right) Riley, Brianna, and Alaina, and her husband Brian Bender. Photo courtesy of Dara Bender.

On April 17, 1984, President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation urging Americans to remember military spouses during the month of May “in recognition of the profound importance of spouse commitment to the readiness and well-being of service members on active duty and in the National Guard and Reserve, to the security of our Nation.”

My husband, Sergeant Brian Bender, has served our country for more than 12 years as a proud member of the U.S. Air Force (USAF). He is a Tech Sergeant in the USAF and is currently serving as a Training Instructor for basic training at Lackland Air Force Base here in San Antonio. During the course of our 14-year marriage, while Brian rose in ranks and deepened his commitment to the military, we became the parents of Brianna (13-years-old), Riley (10-years-old), and Alaina (5-years-old), and we moved five times. Since Brian enlisted, we’ve lived here in San Antonio (twice), as well as Washington D.C., Fort Meade, Maryland, and Spokane, Washington.

The author's children (left to right) Brianna, Alaina, and Riley. Photo courtesy of Dara Bender.
The author’s children (left to right) Brianna, Alaina, and Riley. Photo courtesy of Dara Bender.

Like so many military spouses, I have learned the art of flexibility. When you are in the military, every time you move, you have to start all over again. You don’t have family nearby, you don’t have a babysitter, you don’t know where to grocery shop. I’ve developed skills in creating community. I’ve had to learn time and time again how to pack and move, make new friends, identify family physicians, and help my children adjust to yet another new school. But, like many military spouses, the biggest issue I’ve faced is how to impact others professionally despite routinely changing cities.

Moving every few years makes it difficult to find your leadership path and grow. Although I always thought I wanted to be part of expanding educational opportunity for children, going back to school to get a traditional education degree seemed impossible with our mobile lifestyle. I first learned about Teach For America while I was working in Spokane as the Service to Armed Forces Coordinator for the American Red Cross, providing support to military families.

Another AmeriCorps member told me about this organization that recruits and trains talented individuals to lead classrooms in underserved communities and make a lifelong commitment to expanding educational opportunities for children growing up in poverty. Like my previous role, Teach For America is also part of AmeriCorps, a program that engages Americans throughout the nation to commit to serve each year at nonprofits, schools, public agencies and other community or faith-based organizations.

When I found out we were moving to San Antonio for sure, I knew this was my opportunity to make the leadership move I’d been dreaming of as well. I was thrilled to be selected to join Teach For America’s San Antonio teacher corps and to be hired to teach sixth grade science at Tafolla Middle School. Tafolla Middle School is located in downtown San Antonio, in the heart of the Westside, and has a student population that is 98% Hispanic, with 96% of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch. The school has earned an outstanding reputation as an urban middle school with several notable alumni, including Congressman Joaquin Castro.

It has been tremendously rewarding to be part of the education community in a city like San Antonio, working with brilliant kids who have so much potential despite the many challenges of poverty they face. I have always been drawn to connecting people with services that exist, and providing support to those going through challenging times.

What I loved about my job at the Red Cross was the ability to make connections for military families. And now, I am able to tap into that same reservoir working with Teach For America. So much of educational equity is also tied to access. My role is to give my kids access to the knowledge and information they need to fully participate in society and realize the future they dream for themselves. It’s my aim is to do whatever I can do to help them obtain keys to a bright future.

As we honor military spouses this month, I encourage others to recognize the sacrifices families make when a member is in uniform, and to join me in celebrating the efforts of all those who work so hard to protect and serve our nation. As a military spouse, I feel fortunate. I am blessed to be married to someone who loves what he does and who is fulfilling his duty to our country. I’m fortunate his commitment to the Air Force has enabled my children to experience different places in America and find a sense of home in each of them.

I am also thankful to have discovered a leadership path through Teach For America. There will be opportunities for me to reach high-needs students wherever Brian’s assignments take us. Most importantly, this job allows me to use my skills and talents to make an impact in the lives of students, young Americans who are the future of our nation.


Disclosure: Rivard Report board member Laura Saldivar Luna is the executive director of Teach for America in San Antonio.

Top image: Dara Bender, her children (left to right) Riley, Brianna, and Alaina, and her husband Brian Bender. Photo courtesy of Dara Bender.

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Dara Bender

Dara Bender is a 2015 corps member with Teach For America. She teaches 6th grade science at Tafolla Middle School.