Tag Archives: education

Educating the Dandelion: Creating Stability in Education During a PCS

Girl-holding-flagDandelions.  Some people may see a weed, but I see resiliency.

Did you know that the dandelion is the unofficial official flower of the military child?  It’s crazy to think the puffy flower you picked in the backyard as a child represents our military kids, but it does.  I found a comparison of the two and it’s startling how similar they really are in definition.  According to an often-cited anonymous poem:

“The plant puts down roots almost anywhere, and it’s almost impossible to destroy. It’s an unpretentious plant, yet good looking. It’s a survivor in a broad range of climates. Military children bloom everywhere the winds carry them. They are hardy and upright. Their roots are strong, cultivated deeply in the culture of the military, planted swiftly and surely. They’re ready to fly in the breezes that take them to new adventures, new lands, and new friends.”

The description above would be even more fitting if dandelions had to receive an education, change grades, take new tests, learn new curriculum and change schools with every gust of wind. Although our dandelion kids are amazingly resilient, sturdy and strong, they face school transition and education inequities with every permanent change of station (PCS). It’s a mountain of emotion with every move.

There a few important facts to consider when you PCS with school-age children.

There are currently 2,000,000 military-connected children in America:

  • 1,381,584 are ages 4-18 years old.
  • 1,105,267 (over 80%) attend PK-12 public schools.
  • Every school district in the country has military-connected students.
  • Approximately 10-12% of military-connected students are served in special education programs.

Military families move an average of every two to three years, meaning that approximately 500,000 active duty military children change schools every year.

  • 517,734 children in preschool (ages 0-5)
  • 516,324 children in primary school (ages 6-14)
  • 186,883 children in high school or older (ages 15-22)

One change of duty station results in a number of cascading changes for a military child:

A change of address
A change of schools
A change in friends
A change in routines
A change in neighborhoods
A change in activities
A change in housing

This list is not complete by a long shot, particularly without the inclusion of a reference to educational continuity. Even many educators do not understand the educational continuity challenges that military-connected children face.

I have two children. My son has attended three public schools and he’s just eight years old. My daughter is seven and she’s moved five times in her short (and well-travelled) life. My kids are young little dandelions but they have already proven their sturdiness through multiple school changes. I recently had an experience that caused me to change the way I view school transitions resulting from a PCS. I no longer hope things will work out; rather, I ensure things will work out. I leave little to chance.

kids-at-schoolMy son is an atypical learner and has unique educational needs. He does not have an IEP or 504 plan, yet he can be a challenge for many teachers and would easily fall through the cracks in a large classroom. My son’s teachers, counselors and principal in our last assignment in Ohio showed great interest in his learning style and really supported his needs. My husband and I embraced their innovative recommendations, including a one-grade academic acceleration.

My son went through an extensive testing and interview process and we were to be assigned to the location for the next two years or more. His educators promised to continue to support him through elementary school, hand-picking his teachers and enrichment program placements. We pulled the trigger to accelerate him after careful and deliberate discussion. The school staff was extremely supportive – amazing, actually — and gave us the option to “undo” the acceleration if it didn’t work out. He would finish out the last few months of school year in the next higher grade.

Then the unexpected happened. We were notified that we had to move and received PCS orders after my son had completed eight weeks in his new grade. He was just getting through the bumpy part. Not only were we moving unexpectedly, but we were moving overseas, and doing so in less than two months.

“What have I done?” I said to my husband when he broke the news to me.

I was terrified. We were supposed to be in this location for at least two years. I trusted this school and now I had to take the leap of faith that the next school could provide the same exceptional level of support. Of course, there was no guarantee. My dandelion kids were being blown in a new direction and I could only worry where they would land.

I felt betrayed, even angry that this transient life we lead might negatively impact my children’s education. I was mad that I couldn’t see this coming; after all, I’m a seasoned military spouse of ten years. I was determined to make it right, to level the playing field for my children and others. It was me, not them, who signed up for this military life, and it was my job to advocate for their education.

A close friend who happens to be a school psychologist and a mother of two dandelion kids helped me create an education binder for my children – a tool to communicate my children’s educational needs and history. We began with my son’s educational binder. I filled the binder with all the information the school counselor needed to place him with the best teacher for him, enroll him in the right programs for him and implement the appropriate accommodations for him. This binder allowed his teacher to know my son even before he walked into her classroom. He was quickly enrolled and identified for enrichment programs and the school asked for occupational therapy evaluations within just a few weeks.

This transition was so much smoother than his previous experiences and I felt as if he was ready to learn on the first day of school. It was an amazing feeling and I credit the education binder; it neatly organized and presented who my child was as a student and conveyed his needs in a way counselors and teachers understood.

I’ve given this binder a special name that reflects my mission: the Operation Dandelion Kids (ODK) Education Binder. The binder does more than exhibit a transcript – it shares the child’s educational story and includes:

  • Work samples,
  • Report cards,
  • Standardized test scores,
  • Transcripts highlighting different curricula at different schools,
  • Teacher conference documentation,
  • Teacher-to-teacher communication,
  • Notes deployments and homecomings, and
  • A picture of my child so counselors and teachers can put a face with a name.

This binder is as professional as it is personal – it’s a military child’s educational life story.

Creating an education binder for your child will help you organize their records, advocate for their needs and communicate their educational story. I want my kids to embrace all the positives of being a new kid in school – the sense of adventure, feeling of excitement when making new friends, and innate enthusiasm for learning and joining new programs. I want to minimize the negative aspects of being the new kid: having to make new friends, learning a new school layout, and absorbing new curriculum. I want my kids to be ready to learn on day one–not lose six weeks to three months spinning their wheels in the wrong classroom while awaiting yet another new set of test results.

When their education falls into place so does their social life. When they are learning, they are thriving academically and socially. And when they are thriving, I can settle down too.

I know I’m not the only military-connected parent that experiences a wave of panic as PCS season draws near and I think of my children having to change schools again. We’re in this together and together as a military community we can help each other through these transitions, educate school personnel and support our little dandelions as they ride the winds of military life.

Visit FamiliesOnTheHomeFront.com to download your free ODK Education Binder and learn how Operation Dandelion Kids will help your child through school and life transitions. We offer parenting advice, school psychologist-approved recommendations and even school and PCS checklists.

Posted by Stacy Huisman, Air Force spouse and Managing Director for FamiliesOnTheHomefront.com

2 Ways to Make Your MilKid’s Homework Easier in the Final Semester!

Children-in-classroomAmid the doldrums of the end of winter and the spring forward time change, students struggle with the start of the second semester. Once the snow melts, however, all thoughts wander first towards spring break, a reprieve from the drudgery of long school days and homework, and then to the lure of a long summer break – the ultimate escape from the classroom.

If vacation time occupies your mind right now, you’re not alone. Even the most dedicated teachers and tutors are already scanning cruise brochures and plotting their Space A travel adventures.

For military children, it’s even harder. With the average military child attending up 9 schools over the course of his or her academic career, the end of the school year most often means a PCS, and the end of time with friends at that duty station. Your student still has several months to go, though, and despite their adamant independence—yes, you know they can do it themselves!—they need you right now.

It’s time to make sure your student learns to finish the semester strong!

Here are two key ways you can help your child prepare to power through the final semester.

1. Help avoid visual distractions. If their desk is messy, help them clean it. For a visual or hands on learner, a messy desk is a reflection of how organized the rest of their schoolwork looks. If their desk isn’t neatly arranged, then it’s a sure bet you may find the missing homework assignments bringing down their grade somewhere at the bottom of their book bag. Once organized, have your child take those assignments to the teacher to see if they can at least earn a late grade. If nothing else, this presents an opportunity for your child to practice self-advocacy, a skill they’ll need long past their grade school days.

2. Reduce interaction with as many electronic devices as possible. That means no television, no music with lyrics, no texting, and no social media. It’s unrealistic to expect students to turn off all electronics, as most students, particularly those in middle school and beyond, need the internet to access homework websites and conduct research. However, it is possible to make sure that those devices are used for their stated purpose.

The following website plugins and apps may help:

  • FocusWriter allows students to really focus on writing that essay for class. It locks down all other programs, leaving only a writing document available for student access. It even allows users to set a writing goal, either for time or for word count.
  • Focus Booster helps teach your student productivity skills through time management. For younger students, set time goals of 10-15 minutes for concentrated work. Build up their study efforts in increments of 5 minutes. High school students who don’t have any other learning limitations should be able to study for up to 50 minutes at a time.
  • Cold Turkey also helps with productivity by blocking social media and games. It helps students schedule time for breaks, too.
  • Focus@Will helps define music for reading, music for studying, café noise, or my favorite, water sounds. Some music can actually facilitate studying for all learners, but it’s important to distinguish what type of music works best for your little learner. Regardless of what he tells you, though, music with lyrics distracts even the most conscientious learners, and if your child is an auditory learner, forget it!

While your kiddo is engaged in one of his productive study periods, you can break out the stack of vacation guides you picked up at the ITT office on base after all. If you have executed these changes with your child, then you’re on your way to a successful end of the school year and a well-earned summer break!

How do you help keep your kids encouraged and engaged at the end of the school year? Share your tips with us!

KarinaGHeadshot(Square)-(2-of-2)Posted by Karina Gafford, Air Force spouse, founder of Tutors By Base, and blogger at Thoughts on Tutoring

NMFA Scholarships Make It Easy… Even in the “Hard” Majors!

alexis-lorbeckiEducation is very important to me. I always said that after graduating high school, I wanted to go straight to college. As a military spouse desiring to pursue higher education, I was always worried I wouldn’t be able to find a college near my husband’s base. I was also concerned with being able to afford college (who isn’t?), and even being smart enough to stay in college. Even though my dreams of continuing my education were surrounded with worry, one thing was always certain: I was going to make it to medical school, and eventually become a doctor.

I am majoring in Biochemistry at Armstrong State University. I know what you’re thinking: “How hard and time consuming that must be!”

Yes, it’s very hard and you do need to study a lot in order to do well, but I don’t think people have a good understanding on what all of these “hard” majors, like Chemistry, Engineering, or Biology, really have to offer. If military spouses find out just a little information about these different degrees, and learn how they can get started and what they need to do, I think more of us will become interested in these fields. With a little time and effort, these “hard” majors are very attainable!

I was originally a Biology major, because I love learning about how the body works and all of the components that make it work. I wanted to learn as much as I could! But just last year, my school started to offer a Bachelor in Science Degree in Biochemistry. I love biology, but I really enjoy chemistry, too. Being in a lab, working on experiments is thrilling for me! I knew that changing my major to Biochemistry was the perfect way to combine all the things I love to learn about. I’m able to have both chemistry and biology aspects in my degree, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Being selected to receive a scholarship from the National Military Family Association (NMFA) has given me the chance to stay in school and follow my dreams of getting my Biochemistry degree. Without that undergraduate degree, my goal of getting into, and finishing, medical school would be a little harder to reach.

I found out about the National Military Family Association Military Spouse Scholarships through a military wives Facebook page—all of the wives have spouses in my husband’s company. One of the wives posted about how she found out about NMFA’s scholarships, and she highly recommended any of us who were in college to apply for them! The best part about NMFA’s spouse scholarships is that the application process is simple, and easy to find!

I’m so happy I decided to apply for these scholarships. It has made such a difference for me and my family. Even if you think you won’t get picked, take the time to apply for YOU. Pursuing your education may be the best thing you’ll ever do for yourself!

I’ll even suggest joining me in the Biochemistry field!

Posted by Alexis Lorbecki, NMFA Scholarship Recipient and Army Spouse, Hunter Army Airfield, Savannah, GA

Interstate Compact for the Win! #WayBackWednesday

On August 18, New York became the 50th state to jump on board and adopt the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children! So what does this mean?

This important legislation, now accepted across the United States, levels the playing field for military kids who transition to new states and new schools because of military orders. The Interstate Compact ensures they receive uniform treatment over a variety of different scenarios common when changing schools, like enrollment, placement, attendance, eligibility and graduation.

But that’s not all. Even though all 50 states have taken the steps to support military children, we’re finding out some school administrators and teachers still don’t know the provisions of the Interstate Compact, even in states where it has been law for years.

You can help. Visit our website to find resources, information, and even some printable documents you can take to your local school to share.

We are thankful for all the administrators, teachers, and educators who teach our awesome military kids, both stateside, and overseas! In this #WayBackWednesday photo from 1990, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney meet with Teachers of the Year from Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS).

90-BUSH-&-CHENEY-WITH-DODDS-TEACHER-OF-YEAR

Want to Go Back to School? We Have an App for That!

road-to-educationAs if military life isn’t complicated enough, I, like many other military spouses, decided to make my education a priority. After making this decision, I was overwhelmed by the amount of schools I could attend. With frequent moves and deployments, distance learning is a military spouse’s best friend. But, would it be right for me? I found the process of narrowing down schools and deciding on a program completely overwhelming. It weighed on my mind day in and day out. Waiting at a doctor’s office, at the grocery story, or painting my nails, I would be racking my brain about school, and what my next steps should be. In those moments, I wish I had something right at my finger tips to help me do the research.

Enter, the National Military Family Association’s app, MyMilitaryLife.

MyMilitaryLife is a resource any military spouse can turn to! I followed the “Spouse Education” Life Path and found information I needed to pick a good school. The app walks you through the process, from start to finish, with a checklist of items to complete along the way. Whether you want to pursue a certification, or even your Ph.D., the MyMilitaryLife has information for you.

The “Spouse Education” Life Path has the answers to your questions…even the ones you didn’t think to ask, like:

  • Where do I start?
  • What program is right for me?
  • Is distance learning for me?
  • Where can I find money to pay for school?
  • Will my credits transfer?

With MyMilitaryLife, these answers are at your fingertips, and can help smooth the road on your education journey. This Life Path even includes reviews from trusted sources: military spouses! Who better to give you advice than spouses who have been there, too? These reviews help make the app a valuable, trusted resource you’ll return to again and again!

Another bonus: the app features a great list of scholarships available to military spouses!

So, next time you are waiting around for an appointment, jump on your smart phone and download MyMilitaryLife. Maybe this time next year you will have a new certification in hand or be a headed for a new degree!

Amanda headshotPosted by Amanda Anderson, Content Manager, MyMilitaryLife

OCONUS Orders: Where Will My Kids Go to School?

Siblings-with-backpacks-on-way-to-schoolOne of the great advantages of military life is the opportunity to live overseas. How many of our civilian friends and neighbors have the chance to pick up and spend two or three years exploring Japan, Germany, or Korea? However, along with the excitement that accompanies overseas Permanent Change of Station (PCS ) orders comes an onslaught of questions. Where will we live? What about the dog? And – most importantly for families with school-age children – where will the kids go to school?

For most families moving overseas, the choice of a school is fairly straightforward. The Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) operates elementary and secondary schools at installations in countries all over the world, including Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Turkey, Bahrain, South Korea, and Japan. For families stationed at these locations, these Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) provide a comprehensive, quality education to children in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

However, what about those families heading to a country not served by a DoDDS school? How can they find an appropriate school for their school-age children? For answers to these and many other questions, families heading overseas can turn to the Non-DoD Schools Program (NDSP). The NDSP provides support and funding for the education of authorized command-sponsored dependents of military members and Department of Defense (DoD) civilian employees assigned to overseas areas where no DoDEA school is available.

The NDSP supports families moving overseas in a variety of ways. First, it helps families identify the different options for educating their children in their new location: local public school, private school, virtual education, or homeschooling. Your new command or overseas location should have an NDSP Liaison who can provide you with information on your choices. You can also find contact information for regional instructional specialists at the NDSP website.

Depending on your child’s grade level and the options available at your new location, the NDSP may be authorized to pay tuition for your child to attend a private school. Allowed tuition amounts vary by location.

It’s important for families to understand that not all the costs associated with attending school in their new location will be covered by NDSP. NDSP is not allowed to pay for uniforms, meals, or personal computers, for example. Families should also be aware that private schools may have a lengthy application process, so it’s important to reach out to NDSP for support and information as soon as possible after receiving orders.

Parents of special needs children may be especially concerned about an overseas move and the ability of the local school system to meet their child’s educational needs. The NDSP can offer guidance about options available in your new location and will work with parents, service providers, and school personnel to make sure your child’s needs can be met.

Moving overseas can be an exciting adventure for your family. Arming yourself with as much information as possible beforehand helps ensure it will be a positive experience for everyone. Bon voyage, travel safe, and be sure to take lots of pictures!

Has your child attend a NDSP school? What advice would you share with military parents?

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Apply for our Scholarships and Build a Better Future!

Female-Student-with-Back-PackOur Association was established by strong-willed military spouses who fought to ensure that survivors had benefits. We’ve made big strides since these bold women paved the way 45 years ago, and our Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship Program is no exception. This year marks the 10th year of our program, and we plan to expand it — by helping bridge the gaps between your education, training, or certification and your employment goals.

We’re excited that we’ve teamed up with Coca-Cola Foundation to award scholarships to spouses seeking careers in fitness and nutrition. These fields will help improve the well-being of families around the country, and serve as portable careers for military spouses. Apply for funding towards your own certification or degree in this new category!

We’re increasing our support of spouses going into mental health professions, because there’s a growing shortage of these professionals in our community, and there are a lot of hurdles for highly-mobile military spouses. They often have to pay out-of-pocket for some steps toward licensure, while their less-mobile peers have other options to cover these costs. We’re working with sponsors from the healthcare community to provide funding for some of these expenses — and after a move, will match spouses with providers who can help with some of the training they require. If you, or someone you know, needs help pursuing your licensure, apply for our Clinical Supervision scholarships!

If you’re pursing a degree in the high-demand science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, we have scholarships for you, too! Thanks to the generosity of Lockheed Martin, we’re giving away more scholarships to spouses in these fields, which are not only highly-employable because of a national shortage of STEM professionals, but most of the positions are incredibly portable. That’s a perk all military spouses can appreciate!

We’re also ramping up efforts to support foreign-born spouses who need to learn English before becoming eligible for many jobs. Our scholarship program helps cover the cost of English-as-a-second-language (ESL) classes and exams.

This year marks the first year we’re partnering, on a large scale, with eligible schools and training programs to provide school, or program, specific discounts and scholarships for spouses attending, or planning, to attend our partners’ programs.

CSU-Global is proud to support us through five $1,000 scholarships for undergraduates, and two $1,500 scholarships for graduate applicants seeking degrees or certifications. If you’re interested, simply apply to our Joanne Holbrook Patton Scholarship Program, and you’ll then be eligible to apply to CSU-Global.

Our application period closes February 3rd at 12:00 noon EST. Apply now!

If you have a recommendation as to how we can better help spouses pursuing training, certification, traditional degrees, or licensing, let us know in the comments section below!