Tag Archives: children’s education

Finding the Silver Lining: Military Family “Wins” in 2013

army-dad-with-babyOver the past few weeks, there has been a lot of talk about the many ways that Washington is breaking faith with military families. Just in the last month, we learned that in 2014 the military will receive a pay increase of only 1 percent – the lowest such pay raise since the creation of the all-volunteer force. At the same time, we were told that cost of living adjustment (COLA) increases to military retiree pensions will be reduced starting in 2016. And just last week we learned the stateside commissaries may be eliminated in the next three years. These blows came at the end of a year in which military families watched as the programs and services they depend on were threatened by budget cuts. Under these circumstances, it’s understandable that military families feel that they are the big losers in Washington’s epic budget battles.

Fortunately, there were a few bright spots for military families in 2013. Both the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Bipartisan Budget Agreement (BBA) included provisions to support military families and improve their quality of life.

As a parent, I was particularly pleased to see the NDAA provides a total of $30 million to assist public schools educating large numbers of military-connected children. Even better, the spending bill passed by Congress restored $65 million in Department of Education Impact Aid funds that had been cut by sequestration. These funds are used to compensate school districts for the loss of tax revenue due to the presence of a federal activity or federally connected students (like military kids). These two provisions mean public schools educating military children will receive much-needed financial support in 2014.

In 2013 some retiree families learned that they would no longer be eligible for TRICARE Prime because of the elimination of some TRICARE Prime Service Areas. This change struck many military family members as unfair and disruptive, and Congress agreed. The NDAA offers a one-time opportunity for those families to opt back in to TRICARE Prime. We have not yet received any information from TRICARE about how this policy will be implemented.

The NDAA recognized families of service members in Special Operations Command have unique needs that may not always be met by regular family support programs. To address these needs, Congress authorized $5 million to develop support programs dedicated to those families.

We were gratified to see Congress take on the issue of suicide among service members and military families in the NDAA. Our Association has long been concerned about suicides among military family members. We have heard reports the numbers may be increasing, but currently there is no data on the numbers, the causes, or how they can be prevented. We recommended Congress call for a study on this issue and were especially pleased to see this request included in the NDAA. The legislation also called for enhanced suicide prevention efforts for members of the reserve component.

Finally, we were pleased to see that the NDAA included provisions to care for wounded service members, their families and caregivers, and survivors. DoD was directed to improve assistance for Gold Star spouses and other family members in the days following the death of a service member. The legislation also aims to support wounded service members as they transition out of the military and seek civilian employment by providing additional information about disability-related employment and education protections in Transition Assistance Programs. Congress also directed DoD to provide service members’ medical records to the VA in an electronic format.

In 2014, our Association will continue to fight for programs and services that support service members and their families.

What issues are important for you and your military family? Let us know – and let your Members of Congress know too!
Click here to find contact information for your Representative or Senator.

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Surviving the Mid-Year School Transition

mid-year-school-transitionA few years ago, I attended a Military Child and Education Coalition (MCEC) seminar held at Fort Drum. “Things are finally getting more manageable,” I thought on my drive to the event. A thought I distinctly remember. After surviving multiple deployments, five moves, an infant with colic, a toddler who resisted the car seat’s five point harness like a ferocious wild animal, my life as a mom finally seemed to be smoothing out. Both kids were sleeping through the night, I was down to one child in diapers. My daughter was approaching kindergarten. I’m a little ashamed to admit, I viewed it as a sort of parole.

I was thinking to the future, confident that I could handle anything now that I was enjoying a solid 6 hours of sleep per night.

Not so fast.

The challenges weren’t ending, they were simply shifting – something the MCEC workshop taught me to recognize. Sure, I would be more well-rested, but with my daughter entering school, each move would present a whole new set of issues. Fortunately, there are a variety of organizations that have worked to facilitate school transitions for military kids.

As I mentioned, MCEC holds workshops to help parents and kids with the challenges of switching schools. The Interstate Compact has addressed many of the academic hurdles that occur when families move from state to state, and School Liaison Officers are available to answer questions about your new school district and its requirements.

Walking away from the MCEC workshop, I was pretty sure I could manage the academic issues related to moving. What really concerned me were the social challenges my kids would face. We were fortunate that our next two moves coincided with summer break and my daughter was just one of many new military kids starting the academic year at her new school. Unfortunately, our last PCS did not, and we were forced to confront the dreaded mid-year school transfer.

Shortly after arriving at our new school this past April, I volunteered to chaperone the kindergarten field trip. I arrived a little early to find my son’s class outside for recess. Kids were running around everywhere and it took me awhile to spot my son. He was sitting on a curb, by himself, making a small pile of dirt. When I approached him and asked what he was doing, he told me he was making a house for his pals, the ants.

My heart broke.

If there is one thing I’ve taken away from the many Army resiliency trainings I’ve dutifully attended, it is that the key to managing this military lifestyle is to optimize the things you have the ability to influence, and try to make the best of everything else.

Leaving old friends and routines is hard. Making new friends and fitting into a new school can be even harder. As much as you’d like, you probably won’t be able to arrange for a new best friend to be waiting at your child’s new school. However, our recent experience showed me the importance of identifying key things to make the experience a little smoother.

I wasn’t always successful, but I want to share my lessons learned in the hope that it might help during your next move:

Contact your child’s teacher before his or her first day of school. Use this opportunity to introduce yourself and make sure the teacher is prepared for your child’s arrival. Your military kid will feel much more welcome if there is a desk, cubby, coat hook and school supply box waiting for him or her.

Ask for any booklets or documents on classroom policy or routines. Most teachers, particularly in the younger grades, distribute something at the beginning of the year. Are there any special folders or a day planner your child will need for homework? Understanding how these systems work will help your military kid get into the new routine.

Learn where to find the most accurate school calendar. I mistakenly assumed the calendar on our school’s website was up to date until I showed up at 11:30am for an early dismissal only to discover that it was a full day. In most cases, you can check with your child’s school administrative office to find an updated calendar.

Make sure your name is added to all school distribution lists. I regularly receive emails from the school’s main office, the teacher, and the PTO. Does your child’s classroom have a room parent? My son’s class has six (yes, that’s 6!) room moms. You need to ensure that each of these volunteers adds you to her distribution list, or you might miss the email to send in items for a craft project or show and tell.

Be sure you understand, and are incorporated into, your new school’s emergency communication system. Okay, that tip isn’t going to smooth your child’s transition, but it may ease your own peace of mind. In the unlikely event that something should happen at your school, or in your neighborhood, you don’t want to be wondering how the school will provide you with updates.

Does your child’s school have any special programs that are unique to it and, if so, how might your military kid be impacted? Our new school’s PTO runs a hot dog lunch fundraiser on Thursdays. I signed up my kids at the front office but, unfortunately, word of the new additions did not travel to the cafeteria. Much confusion ensued when my kindergartener showed up looking for a hot dog. He was sent to the office to eat the “nurse’s lunch” which I eventually learned is a variety of shelf stable snacks she keeps on hand for kids who forget their lunch. I count this as my biggest fail and wish I had taken the time to learn more about Hot Dog Day to ensure it went smoothly.

Consider volunteering at the school as often as you can. For you, it will provide an opportunity to meet other parents. For established families, it allows them to put a face to your name. After spending a day with my daughter’s class and many of their moms, one of them realized that she didn’t see our name on an email list inviting families to a special event for 2nd graders. She tracked down my contact info and called to tell me about it. I was grateful that she thought of us and I’m not sure that would have happened had we not met while volunteering.

Recently, I picked my son up at school for a dental appointment to a chorus of kids shouting his name and asking when he’d be returning. It was such a relief to see that he has been embraced by his new classmates. While I wouldn’t want to repeat it, we seem to have survived our mid-school year move and learned a few things in the process.

Have you experienced a mid-year school transition? What are your lessons learned? What advice would you give to families facing a mid-year PCS?

karen-rPosted by Karen Ruedisueli, Government Relations Deputy Director

FAQ Series: Tips for School Success

Teacher-and-students1Although it’s only been a few weeks since school started, it already feels like forever since summer. The days are getting shorter, leaves are starting to turn, and at our house, the piles of homework are starting to grow. Like so many families, we start every new school year with the best of intentions. This is the year we’re going to get organized, stay on top of assignments, and actually use the planner that was handed out on the first day of school. But every year, somehow, life gets the best of us and those good intentions fall by the wayside. Homework assignments get put off or forgotten, or the teacher introduces a new math concept before we’ve completely mastered the old one. Inevitably, there will come an evening when I find myself seated at the kitchen table with a kid who has a science project, math assignment, or history paper due – of course – tomorrow, and no idea where to start.

Luckily, military families have access to great resources to help us through those desperate moments or – even better – keep them from happening in the first place. Online resources are available to help with homework, prepare for college, and even make sure kids are where they need to be, academically, before a move. Here are some frequently asked questions for school success:

Q: I’ve forgotten all the geometry I ever knew. How can I help my eighth-grader?

A: Tutor.com is an online service that offers free homework help and tutoring services to military family members. Expert tutors are online 24/7 and available to help in more than 16 subjects, including algebra, chemistry, calculus, and physics. Tutors can also assist students with college applications and preparation for standardized tests. Military kids – and spouses too – can log on via their computer, tablet, or mobile device and connect with a tutor to get real-time, live homework help. Every tutoring session is anonymous, and no personal information is ever shared between tutor and student. Students can send transcripts of their tutoring sessions to their parents, allowing parents – even those who may be deployed overseas – to keep up with how their children are progressing. Visit Tutor.com to learn more and sign up your student.

Q: The SAT is coming up in a few weeks, and test prep classes are expensive. Are there any alternatives?

A: Military kids preparing for standardized tests have many sources for free and reduced-price assistance. Test prep software is offered to military-connected students at free and reduced-price through eKnowledge. Families pay only shipping and handling for standard test prep software. Premium software programs are available at a discounted price.

Many families don’t realize that the Department of Defense (DoD) has an extensive online library system. One of the many free services available to families through this system is the Peterson DoD MWR Education Resource Center, which offers online test prep assistance and classes. In order to access the Education Resource Center, military families must set up a log-in through Military OneSource. Visit Military OneSource to learn more about online library resources available through DoD.

Q: It looks like we’re moving again. How can I help my child get ready for his or her next school?

A: SOAR, or Student Online Achievement Resources, is sponsored by the Military Impacted Schools Association (MISA) and was established through a partnership among the University of Northern Iowa, Princeton Review, Skills Tutor, and CORE K12. It allows students to assess their skills against grade level standards in all 50 states and provides tutorials to help students where they may be falling short. Other education resources available on the site include links to military installations, transition resources and school websites, resources from specific states, including curriculum frameworks and testing information, and links to United States Department of Education online web resources. Registration is free for military families.

The Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) has many resources for military children, especially those transitioning to new schools. They created SchoolQuest which includes information to help transitioning military families find a school and features a library with articles, web links, and other educational resources for military students and their families.

What resources have you found to help your military-connected child in school? Let us know in the comment section!

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Early Childhood Education: How important is it to you?

military-family-2-kidsAs a mom, I am in the habit of thinking that whatever age my kids happen to be is THE most critical stage in their development. This makes sense, of course – when they were little I worried about reading readiness, while nowadays I stay up nights fretting about SAT scores. And certainly, every age and stage is an important part of a child’s growth and development.

Increasingly, though, research is demonstrating the importance of the early years. In fact, according to the Early Care and Education Consortium (ECEC), 80 percent of a child’s brain development occurs before age five.

Knowing this, it makes sense that quality child care and early education programs can have a huge impact on our kids’ development – and conversely, a lack of good early childhood education can threaten a child’s long-term academic success.

Busy parents – especially in military families – need the peace of mind that comes with knowing that their children are in a safe, nurturing environment while they are at work. Some military families are able to enroll their children in their installation Child Development Center. Other families find care outside the installation through the Services’ fee assistance program administered by Child Care Aware .

Still, we know that the demand for quality child care is far greater than the supply. And for many families, the cost of quality child care or preschool is far out of reach. For this reason, our Association was pleased by President Obama’s recent proposal to expand access to pre-kindergarten and early childhood education programs. We want to make sure all of our military kids have access to the quality early child care and education they and their parents need and deserve.

The ECEC wants to let our government leaders know how important early childhood education is, and they need your help! They have launched a campaign, Strong Start for Children to show Congress how much early child education means to children and families.

Do you have a great story about your child’s experience in child care or preschool? Email info@ececonsortium.org and your story may be included in the campaign. Find out more at the ECEC’s Strong Start for Children page for parents. Every day, policymakers make decisions that impact you, your children, and your ability to access high-quality and reliable early care and education to meet your family’s needs. Make sure your voice is heard!

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

FAQ Series: How the Interstate Compact affects school aged kids

kidsclassroomYou have questions, we have answers!

This week we respond to your frequently asked questions about the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, more commonly known as the Interstate Compact.

Q: What is the Interstate Compact?

A: The Interstate Compact is an agreement among states that allows for the uniform treatment of military children transferring between school districts and states. As of August, 2013 it has been adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia. It addresses issues that may affect military children as they move to a new school district, including enrollment, placement, and graduation requirements.

Q: Who is covered by the Interstate Compact?

A: The Interstate Compact covers children of active duty service members enrolled in grades K-12 in public school. Children of National Guard and Reservists are covered when the service member is in active duty status. Children of retirees are covered for one year following the service member’s retirement. Note that the Compact only applies to public schools. The Compact does not apply to private schools and does not address home schooling.

Q: My child is old enough to start kindergarten in our old location, but the new state has a different cut-off date. What can I do?

A: Under the Compact, if your child has enrolled in and attended kindergarten in your previous state, he should be allowed to continue kindergarten in your new state. However, this only applies if your child actually attended kindergarten. If your child was old enough for kindergarten in your previous location but you moved prior to the beginning of the school year, the new district is not required to allow him to start kindergarten.

Q: My child was receiving special education services at our old school. Will he continue to receive them at our new school?

A: The new school should provide comparable services based on your child’s current Individual Education Plan (IEP). This is required both by the Compact and by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The new school is permitted to evaluate the student later to ensure appropriate placement.

Q: We had to move midway through my child’s senior year. Will he graduate on time?

A: An important goal of the Compact is to ensure that students graduate on time, even when they have to move during their senior year. For this reason, the Compact states that districts should waive specific course requirements for seniors as long as similar course work has been completed. If a waiver is denied and there is no way to complete the required course work on time, arrangements should be made for the student to receive a diploma from the previous school district.

Q: I don’t feel as though my school is following the Interstate Compact. What can I do?

A: It’s not uncommon for teachers and administrators to be unfamiliar with the Interstate Compact. Your installation’s School Liaison Officer can help you work with the school to resolve any questions about how the Compact should be implemented. Each state also has a Compact Commissioner responsible for helping ensure that the Compact is adhered to.

Q: Where can I go for more information?

A: The Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission website includes FAQ’s and other resources, including printable and downloadable brochures for parents, teachers, and school administrators.

What is your family’s experience with the Interstate Compact? Share your story in the comments below!

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Understanding deployment: books for military children

Understanding deployment: books for military childrenThere are many ways to help children deal with the stress they may be feeling due to the deployment of a parent. Suggestions such as keeping a journal, volunteering your time, or staying active with a sports team or hobby are fun ways to distract kids from what seems like a never-ending time in their life.

While staying busy does help school-aged children avoid dwelling on a parent being gone, how do you help younger children understand and cope with what they are feeling? Many families love reading fun books together; this time can also double as a great teaching moment to help young military kids.

Spring is here and it’s the perfect time to cozy up with your little one under a tree or in the park and enjoy one—or all—of our favorite deployment-related books geared towards children under the age of five.

The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn – This book helps children learn a coping skill when encountering a change or missing someone by connecting their love of family with a “token” – or kiss in the hand. This is one of several books in a series. The author wrote another book, A Kiss Goodbye, that helps young children process moving.

Over There, by Dorinda Williams – Written by Dorinda Williams at Zero To Three, this is a great book because families can download a version of the book, print it out, and then customize the story by using their own photographs. The activity book comes in a “daddy” version as well as a “mommy” version. Military families can order this book via Military OneSource.

The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst – Similar to The Kissing Hand, this book teaches kids how to deal with missing a parent by understanding that they are still connected to their parent via an “invisible string.” While not geared solely to military families, this touching book can help young children feel connected with deployed parents or other family members that are far away.

This is a short list of the many books military families have found helpful. What military-related children’s books do you recommend?

dustinPosted by Dustin Weiss, Youth Initiatives Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association

Don’t break the bank: Financial resources for college-bound military kids

Don't break the bank: financial resources for college-bound military kidsSpring is the time of year high school seniors anticipate college acceptance letters and parents discuss how to pay the hefty tuition bill. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, for the 2010 – 2011 academic year the annual price for undergraduate tuition, room, and board were estimated as follows:

    • $13,000 at public colleges
  • $36,300 at private not-for-profit colleges
  • $23,5000 at private for-profit colleges

Yikes! That is quite a bit of money for one year of post-secondary education. Thankfully, military kids are eligible for unique funding opportunities:

In-State Tuition: Dependent children of service members on active duty for a period of more than 30 days are eligible to receive in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in the state where the service member is permanently stationed. This does not mean a military kid is eligible to receive in-state tuition rates in all 50 states, but rather the state where the family is stationed. Once the child is enrolled and paying in-state tuition rates, the child remains eligible for the in-state rate even if the service member receives orders and relocates out of state.

Post-9/11 Transferability: Active duty service members with 10 years of service may be eligible to transfer their Post-9/11 GI bill to a child.

Scholarships for Military Kids: Several organizations have scholarship opportunities for military kids. Below is a selection of opportunities. College-bound military kids are encouraged to review specific eligibility requirements and deadlines, especially as some deadlines are quickly approaching:

College-bound military kids are also eligible for the same federal financial aid opportunities as other students including:

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA): The FAFSA is the required application from the Department of Education to determine eligibility for any form of federal financial aid.

Federal Grants:

  • Federal Pell Grant: A Federal Pell Grant, unlike a loan, does not have to be repaid. Typically, Pell Grants are awarded only to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor’s or a professional degree.
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) Program: The FSEOG Program provides need-based grants to help low-income undergraduate students finance the costs of postsecondary education. Priority is given to those who are also Federal Pell Grant recipients.

Federal Loans:

  • Direct Stafford Loans (Subsidized and Unsubsidized): Direct Stafford Loans are low-interest loans for eligible students to help cover the cost of higher education at a four-year college or university, community college, or trade, career, or technical school.
  • Direct PLUS Loans: Parents of dependent students may apply for a Direct PLUS Loan to help pay their child’s education expenses as long as certain eligibility requirements are met. Graduate and professional students may apply for PLUS Loans for their own expenses.
  • Federal Perkins Loans: A Federal Perkins Loan is a low-interest loan for both undergraduate and graduate students with exceptional financial need. This is a school-based loan program.

Federal Work-Study (FWS): The FWS allows students to earn money by working at a subsidized job, usually on the college campus.

Be sure to explore these resources to reduce your out-of-pocket costs. What other resources would you share with college-bound military kids?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager at the National Military Family Association

Helping military kids transition: the role schools and educators play

Helping military kids transition: the role schools and educators playEvery 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.

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director at the National Military Family Association