Dandelions. 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.
My 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