Every military family knows that moving is just a fact of life. My own family has moved more times than I care to count and my children, who are now 14 and 12, attended two preschools and five elementary schools. Being the new kid in school is normal for them, and like most military kids they have handled our moves smoothly – more smoothly than I have, in fact! Still, as a parent, it’s hard not to worry about the effects of so much change.
Military parents do their best to make moving as painless as possible for their children, but schools have a vital role to play as well. I know from personal experience that the new school can make a huge difference during those first days and weeks. After our last move, a greeter at the front door of the elementary school recognized immediately that my daughter was a new student and welcomed her with a warm smile and big hug on her first day. Her new classroom teacher matched her with a buddy to help show her around the school and sit with her at lunch. She came home all smiles and within a few short weeks it was as if she had never gone to school anywhere else.
Sadly, though, our good experience is not universal. Unless schools take steps to ease the transition for students as they move in and out, it can be difficult for highly mobile kids to fit in – and sooner or later, their grades will start to suffer. Knowing this, I have been excited to hear more about steps that teachers, administrators, and even our Nation’s leaders are taking to help our military kids. Last year, the Obama Administration, the Military Child Education Coalition, and the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education launched Operation Educate the Educators, an effort to get colleges and universities to include information on the challenges faced by military children in their teacher education programs. More than 100 higher education institutions are already participating.
Probably no school system has more experience with transitioning students than the Department of Defense Educational Activity (DoDEA). DoDEA teachers and staff are used to highly mobile students and treat transition as a normal part of life. They have developed routines to welcome new students and – just as importantly – say goodbye to children who are preparing to move away.
Some public schools with a high concentration of military kids have followed DoDEA’s example and adopted innovative strategies to help students transition. Schools can create newcomers’ clubs or match new children with a buddy. Other schools have gone even further and set up transition rooms, a type of welcome center for new families. There they can learn about school activities, community resources, receive a tour, fill out questionnaires about their needs and situation, and meet other parents and students. Another good idea is to appoint one staffer as a “transition specialist,” who can greet families when they arrive to register, keep track of whether new students are making friends, help students cope with a new set of school rules, and answer parents’ questions.
Moving is always going to be part of life in the military, but transitions don’t have to negatively affect our kids’ experience in school. Check out our Military Kids Toolkit section on Transition for more ideas to help make your child’s move a little bit easier.
What do you think schools should do to help military children transition? What has worked for you and your family? Share your experiences below.