Tag Archives: education

I Used My Spouse’s Post-9/11 GI Bill…and I Don’t Feel Guilty

I have a confession to make. I used my husband’s Post-9/11 GI bill for myself instead of saving it for our kids.

Gasp!

Do I feel guilty? No, I don’t.

First of all, the Post-9/11 GI bill is my husband’s benefit – not mine. When I decided to go to grad school, he offered to transfer it to me. I said, “Don’t you want to use it?” He knew he would have additional educational opportunities through the military and at that point in time he wasn’t interested in further education post-military service.

“What about our kids,” I asked? “Should we save it for them?”

“You want to go to school now. Our kids are in diapers.”

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So, I started to do some research on how I could financially support my family with an advanced degree. The Department of Labor reports “few things affect people’s earnings power more than their level of education. In general, more education means more dollars earned.” There are several reports with lots of data confirming that lifetime earnings increase as education levels increase. The Department of Labor also reports in 2014 the median weekly earnings for full-time workers were:

  • $488 with less than a high school diploma
  • $668 with a high school diploma and no college
  • $1,101 with a Bachelor’s degree
  • $1,386 with an Advanced degree

Wow – that is a $898 weekly difference!

What does all of this data mean for me? It means by using my husband’s Post-9/11 GI bill to obtain an advanced degree I have a better chance of supporting my family financially over the long term. It also means, with careful planning we’ll be able to set aside money to send our kids to college.

Another consideration for our family was to gauge whether the Post-9/11 GI bill would be available for our children. Recent proposals include reducing the Post-9/11 GI benefit for dependent children by removing the housing stipend for dependents receiving a transferred benefit. This proposal wasn’t approved by Congress last year; however no one can accurately predict what the future benefit will look like.

The idea that the Post-9/11 GI bill might not be available by the time my children are old enough to use it is scary. And knowing that I could provide more financial stability for my family sooner than my kids would be able to use the benefit made the choice easier for us to make.

So yes, I’m guilty as charged: I used my husband’s Post-9/11 GI bill benefit. And if it’s the right choice for your family, you should consider it, too.

If the Post-9/11 GI bill isn’t an option for your family, consider applying for one of NMFA’s many military spouse scholarships! There’s something for everyone, and even partner colleges and universities who have incentives on top of our scholarships! Apply by January 31, 2016!

If you’ve used your spouse’s Post-9/11 GI bill, how did you family decide on this? Tell us about it in the comments.

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Issues Strategist

Online vs Traditional School: Which is Best for Military Spouses?

You’ve decided. There’s no better time than now. This is the best thing for you and your military family. It’ll be tough, and it might mean late nights and early mornings, but you’re doing it.

You’re going back to school.

You’ve researched degree programs, figured out how you’ll pay for it, and now the only thing left to decide is whether you should complete school online program, or in-person.

Weighing the options between online and traditional schools is tough for many military spouses. Life certainly isn’t routine, and you aren’t guaranteed an extended amount of time at any duty station. How do you decide what’s right for you?

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I asked two military spouses, who are going back to school, how they made their decision. Here’s what they said:

Heather, an Air Force spouse and mother of four, chose traditional school when she decided to pursue her Master’s degree. She completed her undergraduate studies through an online program, and was looking for the on-campus experience for her Master’s—with a library, places to study, sporting events, and graduation ceremonies with the friends she’d make in class.

“I wanted the classroom conversations and networking opportunities; the ability to raise my hand and get an answer instantly, get to know classmates and professors face to face, attend extra events and workshops, and meet others in my field of study. Because I did a distance program for undergrad, I’m looking forward to the experiences I’ll have on campus,” Heather shared.

I also talked to Lyndy, an Air Force spouse with four kids. She chose an online program for three reasons: time, family, and flexibility.

“The main reason I chose an online program is because of time. I do not have physical time to dedicate to the classroom. I work during the day and I am also the mostly-sole care giver for my kids after work. That includes homework and getting the kids to and from their activities. I need the flexibility to fit school into my schedule instead of my schedule fitting into school,” she mentioned. “I can accelerate my degree if I choose, or I can take it slow if life happens.”

And life is sure to happen (can I get an AMEN, milspouses?).

Family also weighed into Heather’s decision. With four kids, Heather likes that traditional school means less multi-tasking. “When I am in class, I am in class. I won’t need to multi-task while cooking dinner. I can focus.” All of her classes are scheduled for the evening hours, and only meet a couple days a week. “This way, I can give my kids 100% during the day, and still give my classes 100% in the evening.”

Many military spouses can relate to the ‘family first’ mentality. When time is precious with our service member, we soak up every moment. Fitting school into that mix was something Lyndy considered, too, “With four kiddos and a husband who travels and works long hours, the kids rely on me for stability and support. They only have one childhood, so my degree program needs to fit within my family so I can be there for those once-in-a-lifetime moments.”

Heather echoed the importance of family support. “I am lucky to have extended family in the area who are willing to help with the kids when my husband is TDY, which feels like all the time lately. I have a lot of people I can lean on right now to help me get the kids to activities, or make dinner on the nights I won’t be home. I don’t know if I will ever have this level of support again. I know the days we have here are numbered, and I feel like it’s now, or never, to get my degree.

Other factors to consider are whether you’ll use the GI Bill, if you might have to PCS during your semester, or whether you have a support system around to help with unexpected things, like sick kids or deployments.

Lyndy and Heather both know the potential struggles they could face with the program they’ve chosen, but they also know the reward at the finish line. Are you ready to pursue the degree or certification you’ve always wanted? NMFA will help you pay for it! Apply by January 31, 2016 for our military spouse scholarships—we’re giving away more than $500,000 to deserving and motivated spouses.

NMFA has partnered with online AND traditional schools to give you special scholarships for degrees like nursing, social work, and sciences and technology.

So, what’ll it be: online or traditional school?

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Why I Delayed Grad School. And Why Changing Your Mind is Okay.

It was my junior year of college, and my Public Relations Strategy professor very adamantly told us one day in class, “Go get a job after you graduate!” She preached to us on more than one occasion, telling us to forego graduate school right after finishing our Bachelor’s degree so we wouldn’t have to compete with our peers, who would have two years of work experience by the time we finished our Master’s degree.

This really struck a chord with me. In college, I was that girl with two jobs and two internships at one time. The thought of being set back (crazy, I know) by graduate school was terrifying to me.

I was also extremely fearful of the debt. I lived at home during school to help cut down on costs, and avoid leaving school with debt. To willingly take on debt for a Master’s degree, after being able to avoid it in undergrad, just didn’t make sense.

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I graduated with my Bachelor’s and packed up my bags to move myself to the Nation’s capital. This summer will be 4 years since I graduated and I’m starting to play around with the idea of grad school.

Aside from my college professor giving me the scary reality that I wouldn’t be able to get a job, I also had no idea what I wanted my career to be. This is what lead me to choose a Public Relations degree; I wanted to study something I could apply to any industry because I was so indecisive (which I still am, but aren’t we all?).

Why now?

There are so many more options for advanced degrees today! In just 4 years, online degree programs have become commonplace. When I was in school, online classes were only offered for a few select classes, and they weren’t the best.

Now, I can actually come to terms with the cost. After working for a few years, and with the strides that have been made with online degrees, there is a possibility to get a graduate degree without the gift of lifelong debt.

I’m also surrounded by a lot of motivated co-workers and friends who are all furthering their education. They’ve inspired me to finally look into going back to school (and to finally figure out a more specific path for my career).

Are you thinking about going back to school? Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Do your research. You can find an accredited graduate degree program that won’t totally break the bank. If the program of your dreams will still cost a pretty penny, look into your options for scholarships, and what your loan payments will look like when it’s all said and done.
  2. Have a passion? Keep that in mind. If you’ve always wanted to be a teacher, a nurse, a scientist, take your passion and use it to fuel your journey. So often, we put our passion on the back burner and find the job that just works for time-being, but don’t sell yourself short. Go for it!
  3. Give yourself a break. If you have been putting off school and feel like it’s too late, or you won’t be able to keep up: give yourself a break! It’s never too late to follow your dreams and go back to school. There are so many different options when it comes to furthering your degree, so don’t let those fears hold you back.

If you’re ready to head back to school, or pursue the certification you’ve been thinking about, take a leap and start the journey. NMFA is here to help–we’ve got scholarships for military spouses and we’re giving away over half a MILLION dollars in scholarships this year! Apply by January 31, 2016.

Did you put off graduate school? What made you finally decide to go back?

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

Military Spouse Scholarships are Waiting for YOU!

“I’m waking up and realized I did not have a dream! I always told myself ‘It’s ok, I don’t need to go to school,’ because I never wanted to take money away from the things my family needed.” –Emily Yancey, NMFA Military Spouse Scholarship Recipient

emily yancey nmfa scholarship

Emily Yancey and family receiving her scholarship from NMFA Executive Director Joyce Raezer

At the National Military Family Association, we meet so many military families from all walks of life. We hear their stories and, whenever we are able, we try to make their family’s military journey a little easier.

Since 2004, NMFA has awarded $3.3 million in scholarships to more than 3,500 military spouses. Emily Yancey was not one of those 3,500 recipients, yet, she still wanted to make a difference through NMFA. Earlier this year, Emily helped NMFA secure a grant to assist local military spouses as they pursue their career and education dreams.

Emily’s dream is to pursue a certification in culinary arts, which will allow her to contribute to her family, lifestyle, and community. She says cooking as a family has helped them heal after their lives changed when Emily’s husband was medically retired two years ago.

In Emily’s NMFA scholarship essay, she wrote, “It is important that military spouses pursue their education and career goals because it is important to keep personal identity. I personally know how quickly and easily personal dreams and aspirations can get put on the back burner. My husband is 100% disabled and it has taken me over two years to truly understand a little time for yourself will go a long way. It is not necessarily a negative thing but, it is important to stay true to you. My husband has always been my biggest supporter to get to school but following through on my part is another story. Being a military spouse means traveling to new duty stations, quickly adapting, and most importantly being the glue that sticks the family together. It’s a tough but rewarding job to help encourage and support the ranking military spouse but it is also that important to follow through for yourself.”

NMFA is thrilled to award Emily with $2,500 scholarship to help her pursue her culinary dreams. But then, an anonymous donor heard the Yancey’s story and was so inspired they decided to surprise Emily and her family with a scholarship that will allow her to finish her degree!

As you can imagine, Emily was surprised and graciously shared her feelings with us. “Words cannot say loud enough how thankful I am for each person that made this happen for me. Thank you!”

Are you a military spouse pursuing an educational or career licensure or certification? NMFA’s military spouse scholarship application is open until January 31, 2016, and we’re ready to help you achieve your goals! Apply now!

Jordan-BarrishPosted by Jordan Barrish, Public Relations Manager

Let NMFA’s Spouse Scholarships Help You ‘Reinvent’ Yourself for Success!

Are you ready to reinvent yourself? Feel stuck in your career? I felt that way several years ago. There I was, a women in mid-life with, what felt like, no responsibilities because the kids are raised and mostly on their own, a husband who had a career going well–both civilian and Air Force Reservist duty–and me…working, but unfulfilled. I was in a black hole and not sure how to get out of it. But because of the support given to me by the National Military Family Association, my story has a happy ending. Yours can, too.

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As my husband and I raised our two daughters, I was always employed.  Throughout my more than 35 years of working, all of my jobs have been challenging and rewarding, including the 12 years I was self-employed. I don’t have a formal 4-year college education, but always enjoyed learning. Not having a degree has never held me back with jobs I pursued. My core skill set is in Human Resources.

I found myself in the ‘black hole’ when I took a lateral move with my company into an Administrative Assistant position. There are several reasons why I did this, including the opportunity to get a security clearance. We had recently moved to the Washington D.C. area, and it was pretty obvious when we moved here that I would need a security clearance to remain marketable. My clearance came through very quickly, and I thought “Great! I have all this HR experience and now I have a clearance!”

However, looking for this new job did not work out in my favor. Maybe it’s because my resume now said Administrative Assistant? I didn’t want to be that anymore–I considered myself an HR Professional. My resume and experience validates this. Why was I getting nowhere in finding a new job? Sure, I had interviews and call backs, but not the great HR job I thought I was entitled to.

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During this several-year process of getting nowhere, and drowning in my abyss, I realized if I wanted to be taken seriously, I needed a professional certification–a PHR certification, which stands for Professional in Human Resources. I was going to put a stake in the ground and declare, “Yes, I am an HR Professional!”  Never mind the pass rate is 57% or that the cost of the books is $750 dollars, and the test is $400. I had no choice. This was my way out.

Once I made this decision, I felt a great weight had lifted. I had a plan and felt confident this was the answer. I also became aware of the scholarships offered to spouses of military members through the National Military Family Association.   I created my profile and went through the application process. I was asked to complete several essays on why it was important to me to pursue my education, particularly as a military spouse.

Several months went by and I received an email that my application had been chosen! I was so honored! Again, this was a validation that I had made a good decision by pursuing the PHR. I was given $500 by a very generous donor.

Within days of passing the test, I was getting call after call for HR opportunities.  I am thrilled to report that I am now a very happy HR Generalist for a government contractor. My day consists of engaging problem solving issues with my client base. I have the job of my dreams. I encourage you to use the benefits National Military Family Association has to offer; if only just for the support and encouragement they give us. And it’s never too late to reinvent yourself.

Are you a military spouse ‘reinventing’ yourself by going to back school or pursuing a certification? Apply for NMFA’s scholarships now through January 31, 2016!

Posted by Tracey Stringfellow, PHR, National Military Family Association Scholarship Recipient

PCSing During the School Year: Be Prepared and Ask Questions

According to Department of Defense’s (DoD) Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, the military moves roughly 530,000 service members and their families every year. More than half of those moves are during peak moving months of May through August. That leaves more than 250,000 service members and their families moving off season: during the academic school year.

While moving during the summer months may add a heavy workload to the DoD, moving in summer presents an ideal time for families to transfer schools without missing crucial educational requirements for military connected children. In contrast, moving the other 250,000 military members during the school year brings an entire new set of challenges for military members.

When changing schools during the year, there are plenty of hurdles both parents and students face. The important thing is to gather as much information and ask as many questions to school administrators and teachers before (and after) you PCS. Being organized and prepared is key to a successful mid school year transition.

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Here’s a solid checklist and questions for parents with school-aged kids to ask, but we’d love to hear some of your tips and tricks when moving during the school year, too!

Research and Compare Curriculum – Do your research before you move.

  • Will the school be able to meet the educational needs of your child?
  • Compare curricula of your current and new schools.. You need to know if your child will struggle to keep up or be ahead of peers and thus bored in the classroom.
  • Collect and review important schoolwork showing your child’s academic aptitude.
  • Compare current schoolwork to curriculum in new school. What type of math are they teaching? Does the school use Common Core or has it opted out?
  • Plan a conference for your child’s current teacher or counselor to review the new school’s curriculum.
  • Take a picture of your child’s text book covers, websites they use and gather work samples of current work.
  • Ask the new school how new students who are behind/ahead of current grade-level objectives are handled.

The Teacher(s) 

  • Educational continuity is at risk each time a military child – no matter what grade they are in – moves to a new school.
  • Teacher-to-Teacher Letter – A great preemptive idea is to have your child’s current teacher write a letter to the new teacher – even though you don’t know who it will be. This is a perfect venue for teachers to share information about your child’s learning methods or insight into behavior.
  • Meet with the your child’s current teacher before you PCS. Take lots of notes at a parent-teacher conference. These notes will be critical when you advocate for your child’s education or services at the next school.
  • Administrators Ask your current school to explain procedures for withdrawal and forwarding your child’s records to the new school.
  • Ask for a copy of your child’s records to hand carry to your new location.

Education Binder – Compile a binder that is home to all of your child’s important documents, including:

  • Report cards – all of them, even ones from previous schools.  It allow teachers to know the educational history of your child.
  • Schoolwork samples
  • Assessment results
  • Teacher comments and conference notes
  • Individual Education Plan
  • 504 plan
  • Shot records
  • Speech or occupational therapy evaluations/summaries
  • Letters from teachers (to teachers), including specialty teachers (music, coaches and art teachers, for example) if applicable
  • Test results (Cog AT, Iowa Assessments, reading readiness, SAT)

Families On The Homefront offers a free downloadable Operation Dandelion Kids Education Binder to help parents advocate for their child and help tell their child’s education history.

Know Your Rights

Military families have rights and responsibilities regarding children’s education. It’s up to you to understand these rights and responsibilities. Don’t leave your child’s right to a good education in the hands of a stranger. Own it!

  • Interstate Compact – Start here! Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission  is fighting to level the playing field for military family education.
  • The School Liaison Officer’s job is to help parents navigate the local school system, every base/post has one, contact them for insights about your school or if you have problems with placement of services.

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Information About Your New School

  • School calendar – Ask for the new school’s calendar right away. It will list important dates you need to know.
  • Registration requirements – Every school is different but most schools require PCS orders, proof of residency and immunization records.
  • Holiday hours – Call the new school and learn when the school will be open to register and take a tour hours.
  • Appropriate placement – Gifted and Talented and special needs programs often differ between schools. Understand what the school offers and how placement works for your child.
  • How does the new school handle new students with IEP/504 plans, documented academic struggles and/or academic discrepancies?
  • How do they program for Gifted and Talented students? Not all schools are equal when it comes to curriculum or testing.
  • Speak with a grade-level teacher and/or counselor to get a feel for the school climate and available programs.
  • Does the school offer a way for your child to connect with a peer school is back in session?
  • Secondary students: understand transferring credits, graduation requirements, ranking and how to determine appropriate academic placement.

Contact Your New School – Once you arrive, get on the phone and be ready to get to work.

  • Register and tour the school as soon as possible. Bring the education binder with all your important documents, share your education binder when you register so staff can place your child accordingly.
  • Ask about the school’s procedure for reviewing and implementing a new student’s IEP or 504 plan. Schedule any necessary meetings to review your child’s IEP or 504 plan.
  • Ask about procedures for parent/teacher conferences, schedule on within the first two weeks of school and share your education binder with the teacher as well.
  • Don’t be shy. Parents need to be involved within weeks of arrival at their new location. There will be a ton of information and insights you WON’T have access to unless you make yourself available and start connecting.

Organization and preparation are keys to a smooth school transition, especially one during the year. The loss of support, routines, and social networks associated with changing schools can be challenging for both children and parents. Being prepared for this transition is your best chance to ease the anxiety of changing schools. Start early and be sure to follow up when you arrive. We all know that as parents, we aren’t happy in a new location until our children are happy and settled.

Have you recently moved during the school year? What is the best piece of advice you have for others?

stacy-huismanPosted by Stacy Huisman, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Air Force spouse, mother, and freelance writer. Stacy was published in the popular book “Stories Around the Table – Laughter, Wisdom, and Strength in Military Life.” She is also a judge for Operation Homefront’s Military Child of the Year 2015. 

Running Towards an Enhanced Career: Lace Up and GO!

You are at the starting line, with the finish probably no where in sight. A gun goes off. And then you run.

For me, this applies literally–to actual running–and metaphorically to continuing my education. Currently, I’m attempting both. Both journeys are endless pursuits of self-fulfillment and self-improvement.

I started running about five years ago. We had just moved to sunny southern California, and my husband promptly deployed. I knew just a handful of people, had a job that I disliked, and was spending too much time moping about.

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So I ran. I started with up and back loops in my neighborhood. I took the dog for company, and we chatted about how my day went, what was for dinner, and what type of treat he wanted when we got back.

Those first weeks were painful. I was doing Couch25K before that was a ‘real thing,’ and I was frustrated. I remembered, from high school track, what it felt like to go fast, and I remembered my sub-three minute 800 meters. I remembered flying around the track. Now, I was barely wogging (if walking and jogging had a baby) along, even with frequent trudging breaks.

Right now, I am going back to school for an additional certificate in education. I am scared out of my mind. I’ve been out of school for over five years, and this whole program is online. I’m not sure how to pay for this, or how much work it will be, or if it will be worth it in the end.

But I’m trying it. If it is a disaster, at least I tried.

That’s how I viewed running when I started out: even if I am the slowest person on the road, I’m still faster than the person who never left the couch.

So I kept going. I laced up my shoes and pushed myself farther and faster every single day. One day, I was running again, not just jogging or trudging, but flying.

Education isn’t new to me; I’m a teacher. So you could say I’m pretty comfortable around a classroom. However, my program is in teaching English as a Second Language. English is my first, and only, language. Fine, I can throw a few “holas” around, and could probably find the bathroom if lost in France. Beyond that, I’m hopeless. How am I going to be able to teach children who are coming in without any English language skills?

Also, we just moved. Once again, I have no connections to the education world in sunny SoCal. My course requires that I teach sample lessons. I need to find a classroom. I need to do so many things to make this successful.

As the worries about ‘what-if,’ and ‘what-then’ overtake my mind, I think back to the very first race I ever ran post-high school,:an off-road 5K up in the hills of Camp Pendleton with my running buddy. I was so nervous at the starting line, my stomach was knotted up. I was pretty sure I might actually throw up, or pee my pants. Then my friend looked at me, smiled, and the gun went off. There we were, two former track runners conquering this intensely hard trail run together, side by side the whole entire way. The amazing part was that we both placed in our respective age groups. She got second in her group, and I pulled off a first place finish in mine. At that moment, I was hooked. I loved running, and everything about it.

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I’ve run many races since then. I have only placed in one other race–second place in that same trail’s 5K the following year. But each and every time I cross the finish, I am victorious. My journey to that place, in that moment, has been a triumph of my will over my body, the weather, the road, and my negativity.

My favorite races have been the hardest. The Marine Corps Marathon 2012 was the hardest race I ever ran. Completing a marathon less than six months following a PCS move from SoCal to DC, training through humidity and heat, and healing an injured knee, was just plain hard. But nothing would stop me from lining up that morning; not even Superstorm Sandy, and not even the nausea that hits before every race. I hit the wall hard at mile 20, but trucked along, pretty sure that I would need to stop, but willing myself forward. When that Marine handed me my medal, I had tears of absolute joy rolling down my cheeks.

Right now, as I look over my program–the expense of it all, the time required–I’m pretty sure I might throw up. How on earth can I balance military life, being new to my region, raising a toddler, and taking these courses?? But then I remember how satisfying it is to cross that finish line. How rewarding it is to overcome all of the obstacles placed in front of you by the military, by motherhood, by finances, by sheer self-doubt.

So, I’ll lace up my shoes, pay that hefty bill, and move forward. I will overcome everything in my path. I am a runner. I am a mother. I am a determined, courageous, highly-educated military spouse who WILL advance my career. Because when I reach the finish line of life, I don’t ever want to say I didn’t get off the couch in any part of this journey.

Have you ever conquered something awesome in your military life? What made you push through and do it?

meg-flanaganPosted by Meg Flanagan, a special and elementary education teacher who holds an M.Ed in special education and a BS in elementary education. In addition to classroom experience, she has also worked in private tutoring and home schools. Meg is passionate about education advocacy for all children, but especially for children with special needs and children of military and state department personnel. You can find Meg online at MilKids Education Consulting, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.