Changing schools again (and again).
My son attended three different schools in the past four years. He’ll change to yet another before he finishes fifth grade. Does this mean the quality of his education will suffer?
On top of the normal school moves all kids make as they progress from kindergarten to 12th grade, military children attend approximately six to nine different schools before earning high school diplomas. That’s according to Dr. Mary Keller, CEO of the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), a non-profit dedicated to addressing transition and other educational issues related to the military child.
Moving, of course, is nothing new for military families. But complicated education requirements and the impact of repeated deployments have parents and educators taking a harder look at the bigger picture of educating military kids.
“Any child who moves and changes school, regardless of the reason, is going to experience an academic impact as they adjust to new settings and new expectations,” Keller says. That’s “true for every child, not just a military child.”
Anecdotal evidence from educators and parents, along with research done in military communities, has identified these areas of concern:
– Content transition for subjects which require sequential learning, like math
– Continuity of services for children with special needs
– Meeting graduation requirements for high school students transitioning between states
Another key issue is socialization: “People are worried about the content transition, but the social and emotional transitions are important, too,” says Keller. “Parents are concerned about the whole idea of friends, friendships and the connections that help kids be confident.”
Some organizations and government agencies have heard these concerns and taken action. But the slow wheels of change leave some parents frustrated as they maneuver their kids through the red tape to getting a quality education.
At least 35 states have now adopted the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children. This initiative was designed to help families address educational transition issues such as transfer of records, course sequencing, graduation requirements, exclusion from extracurricular activities, kindergarten/first grade entrance age requirements and more.
The compact aims to define the knowledge and skills students should experience by the time they graduate high school regardless of where they live.
Organizations like MCEC have come out very strongly in support of both the Interstate Compact and the national push for Common Core Standards. (Read more about that initiative, adopted by 45 states so far, at www.corestandards.org.)
These initiatives are a step in the right direction. But because we lack solid research data about how our military children are doing as a whole, it’s hard to know if the right resources are being developed.
Know Your Influence
Beyond these initiatives, parent engagement is critical to finding the solutions that best fit a child’s needs. “Parents in general have become more vocal and that is absolutely a good thing,” says Keller, who added that all of the data and resources available on the Internet help parents to be better consumers when it comes to choosing schools.
“Parents are the best advocate for their children and play an instrumental role in ensuring a smooth transition,” said Kirsten Webb, education outreach specialist, DoDEA Educational Partnership.
Families can hit roadblocks when expectations don’t meet up with the situation at the new school. Some opt to stay quiet about their concerns and issues.
But it’s vital to ask questions, voice concerns and know all of the opportunities available to get kids linked to resources as soon as possible.
On the other hand, some parents may be coming off of a bad experience and get too aggressive when they arrive at a new school. This cycle of distrust leads to parents tuning out to the new school’s positive attempts to talk about their programs. Don’t forget: Different doesn’t necessarily mean less for a child.
Webb said that parents need to research the schools where they will be moving ahead of time. Once a school is chosen, it helps to gather key information, dates and requirements right away.
Resources to Help
For parents, this can all be incredibly frustrating. For those with older or special needs children, it’s even tougher: The steps that should be in place for a smooth transition are still being hammered out through legislation or may even have yet to be identified.
With that in mind, MCEC has developed a program called Parent to Parent. It helps parents become more informed on how they can be better advocates for their child’s education.
Their online “Ask Aunt Peggie” program allows parents to ask specific questions about their situation and get personal advice. Visit www.militarychild.org to find these resources.
Keller emphasized that you don’t have to be an on-point parent all of the time. In the midst of deployments and the stress of moving, there’s only so much anyone can handle.
That means giving yourself a break and not feeling guilty if the situation is not as perfect as you would like it to be.
“There are going to be some things that will be hard and challenging, but there will be many things that will be positive,” says Keller. “As a parent you want to say, ‘I think I’ve done everything I can for my child to have a great experience.'”
For military children, their education and experience includes great life lessons which, parents hope, outweigh the negatives that come from the hard transitions that come with changing schools.