Tag Archives: military kids

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

Send Holiday Cheer to Service Members!

The holiday season is in full swing, and while most of us are keeping the home front warm and cozy, we remember the brave men and women who are protecting our Nation at home, and abroad. No one wishes for peace on Earth more than military families. While we can’t make every wish come true, we can support the ones who wish. Join us this holiday season, in sending well wishes to our service members.

During the month of December, we’d like to feature you and your service member by allowing you to share a holiday message with them. Do you know someone who could use some holiday cheer? Deployed, or at home, let us help you share your love and gratefulness to a service member! Kids can join in, too!

spc-verlanderDear SPC Verlander,

You know all we want for Christmas is you. Well, Christmas is just going to have to come a little late for us, but that’s OK. We don’t care if it’s December or August. It just won’t be Christmas for us without you, but we’ll be brave while everyone else celebrates. We miss you and cannot wait for you to come home! So proud of you babe! Love you so very much!!

-Mandi

Share your message by emailing it to us at blog@militaryfamily.org. Feel free to send a picture of the service member you’re writing to! ‘Tis the season!

Shannon-SebastianPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Online Engagement Manager

OP Bear’s Visit to Operation Purple Camp Sandy Cove

Tim-Neilson---camp-sandy-cove-(5)My journey to Operation Purple Camp Sandy Cove with Association employees Karen Cook and Simmone Quesnell started out early on a dreary, rainy day. I was a bit worried about going to a new camp and meeting everyone.

As we arrived at Camp Sandy Cove, located snugly in the hills of West Virginia, the sun started to peak out and the fog cleared away. What a relief! A wet, foggy day might not stop a military kid at camp, but it would have left me feeling like one sad, soggy teddy bear.

We were greeted by camp Director Tim Nielson and camp Programs Director Tim Glass, who made my stay a fun one, for sure! They introduced us to all the “Chiefs,” (who I think are really camp counselors), along with all the campers and the rest of the staff.

Before the campers and Chiefs went off for their activities, we got to speak to the campers, and, boy, I loved that! We were able to tell them how excited we were to be at camp with them and how important military kids are to us!
I posed for pictures with the campers, and some told me about themselves. One girl said she was nervous about coming to camp, but once she arrived and settled in, she made a bunch of new friends! Hooray!

Other campers wrote special notes in my journal! Let me share a couple of them:

“Camp is amazing! I am so glad I was given the opportunity to attend. Thank you so much!” -Emma

“Coming to camp gives you the opportunity to let loose and make new friends who may be in the same position as you. The camp is for everyone!” -Jordan

simmone-and-op

Later that day, I helped groom a horse named Butter Cup! Then, one of the young boys let me use his mountain board – a skateboard with all-terrain wheels – and I went lightning fast down a hill! Of course, I was told how to do it safely by the “Chief” in charge.

I even got to fly on the trapeze with Simmone!

What a great day! Not only did I get to meet campers and get lots of hugs, but I also heard some pretty amazing stories of how military kids serve too!

After a great Operation Purple Camp visit, we arrived home to the Association headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia. A few days later, at the Compass Rose Charities auction, I went off to my new and loving home for a $6,500 donation! The proceeds will pay for lots of kids to go to Operation Purple Camps in the future! Hip! Hip! Hooray!

op-bearPosted by OP Bear, with help from Karen Cook, Volunteer Services Coordinator, North Region

Survey Says: Military Families Needed!

081304-20641-Sigelman-NMFA-Recruitment-Material-for-Military-Families-Communication-ProjectIt seems as though we are always being asked to participate in a survey. Amazon wants to know how your online shopping experience was. Your cable provider is looking to see that their customer service representative was polite and helpful, and they want you to tell them all about it.

Military families often find themselves being asked to answer surveys. We get official ones from the Department of Defense, like the Millennium Cohort Study, which collects data to evaluate the health of service personnel throughout their military careers. Families also may participate in customer satisfaction surveys to determine if you were happy with Moral, Welfare and Recreation Programs, Department of Defense Education Activity schools, or services provided by your family support center.

Organizations like the National Military Family Association send out surveys to determine what we should advocate for, or how we should shape our programs to better serve military families.

We have used surveys effectively throughout the war to help us determine what type of support military families need, and how to craft the curriculum for our Operation Purple camps.

We often publicize surveys that focus on military family issues to help entities like universities, or other large organizations, provide services or programs for the military community. One such survey was a Military Spouse Employment Survey conducted by the Military Officers Association of America and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families.

This anonymous survey provided a platform for military spouses to share their challenges of employment while on active duty to better understand military spouse unemployment and underemployment.

Sometimes the experiences of military families provide a small piece of the puzzle which adds insight into an issue that affects families outside the military as well.

We’ve been asked by a team of researchers at The George Washington University to promote an online study they are conducting called the Military Family Communication Project. Their goal is to identify ways in which couples, parents, and children can communicate to help them maintain close relationships and good adjustment during separations.

We are trying to reach at-home parents, step-parents, or child caregivers in families with at least one child age 18 or under, and a parent who is currently deployed or away on assignment.

If your family is interested in helping with this study, the at-home parent/child caregiver should email GWU.Military.Families@gmail.com. You will receive an email with more about the study and a link to the survey.

This study can help GWU identify best practices and tips for communicating which all families experiencing long separations could find useful.

We like to say that military families know they are part of something bigger than themselves. Participating in surveys can help shape programs and services not only for military families, but for families all over the country.

Pencils ready? Begin.

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director

FAQ Series: Domestic Violence Awareness month

domestic-violence1October is a national Domestic Violence Awareness month and a time to remind military families about the available prevention resources in your community. As a mobile population, military families may not be familiar with navigating local resources or know where to go for help.

If you’re the victim of domestic abuse, you may have thought for months or years about leaving the relationship. But leaving is scary, and it’s hard to do. Victims often feel trapped and very much alone. They may fear for their own and their children’s safety. Or they’re financially dependent on the abuser and may have no means of support. Within military families, victims are also likely to be far from their support system of family and friends back home.

Victims who need to get out of an abusive relationship can get support from the military, but they also need help and encouragement from friends, relatives, co-workers and trusted professionals. With planning and support, you can build a healthy and safe new life for yourself and your children.

Q: How do I come up with a safety plan?
A: Contact the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) office on your installation to request a victim advocate. A victim advocate can give you information about reporting options and services for victims, including help finding a shelter or other safe place to go. Once you have a safe place to go, talk to trusted friends or family members about the situation. Come up with a code word or signal so that confidant knows when to call for help. Go over safety plans with your children. Teach your children how to call 911 if they need help. Most importantly, plan ahead in case you need to leave on short notice. Gather important documents in one place, preferably away from where you live.

Q: Are there any legal actions I can take?
A: You can get a restraining order or Military Protective Order (MPO) to discourage your spouse from returning home, entering your place of work, or contacting your children. A restraining order or MPO can usually be extended to child-care centers or providers. Remember that neither a restraining order nor an MPO will prevent your spouse or partner from returning home or entering your workplace, but it does make it illegal for him or her to do so. Contact an attorney or court advocate specializing in domestic abuse. He or she can explore custody, visitation, and divorce provisions to protect you and your children. Your Legal Assistance Office can help you obtain legal information and provide general guidance. For issues such as child custody and divorce proceedings, they will refer you to legal services in the civilian community.

Q: I feel like no one understands the situation. Where can I turn for help?
A: Find your local FAP office by using the locator at Military INSTALLATIONS or calling your installation operator or Family Support Center. Call a domestic abuse hotline. They are available twenty-four hours a day at the National Violence Hotline (888-799-SAFE [7233]) and can help you find shelter, counseling, support groups, job training, and legal assistance in your area. Utilize any support group you can. While you may feel alone, many others have also suffered domestic abuse. By joining a domestic abuse support group, you’ll gain strength and support from being around them.

(Source: http://www.militaryonesource.mil/monthly-focus?content_id=266708)

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

Our Military Family Adoption Story

lori-brown-guest-post2Adoption within a military family is often confusing, and can leave you feeling alone on an island. How do I start? How much will it cost? Is this right for my family?

For 19 years, my husband has been active duty with the Marine Corps. We have 2 typical kids, ages 18 and 16, and we also have an exceptional family member, Hunter, who is 13 years old with special medical needs.

In September 2011, we met Hunter’s school nurse, who was in the process of adopting a special needs little girl. She introduced us to the world of foster and adoption. After quite a bit of talking to each other, and to our kids, my husband and I realized we had room in our heart, and in our home, for another child. This was the beginning of our adoption journey.

Most military families aren’t aware that no matter where they are stationed, adoption through foster care is possible – even if you are stationed OCONUS. Out-of-pocket expenses are minimal, unlike foreign adoptions which can cost more than $20,000.

Military families are strong, adaptable, and resourceful, making them perfect candidates to be foster/adoption parents. There are many county, state and foster agencies that love to work with military families, so check around your area to find an agency that works best for your family. Don’t be discouraged if some don’t work out initially.

After a few ‘false starts,’ we found a great Foster Family Agency that appreciated our experience as special needs parents. They also understood that as a military family, we have a special ‘skill set’ that some might not have. My husband and I attended multiple classes specific to foster, adoption, special medical health needs, and CPR/first aide in order to become licensed as a foster home. At the end of that, we were able to become a licensed foster family. In our hearts, we knew that we wanted to foster and adopt special needs children.

lori-brown-guest-post1

We were blessed to be matched with our daughter, Destiny, who is now three years old, shortly after becoming licensed. In her young life, Destiny has faced multiple of medical procedures with no one by her side. She was born with several birth defects, including a heart with no left ventricle.

Destiny had been in the foster care system for 17 months with six failed potential adoption matches. On paper, Destiny’s medical history is scary. When we first learned about Destiny, we asked to meet with her doctors to get some of our questions answered. After only 2 hours, my husband and I knew we could meet Destiny’s medical needs, so we moved forward with having her placed in our home.

Since Destiny came to live with us on February 1, 2012, she has made great advances developmentally, emotionally, and medically. She had many sensory issues to work through due to her lack of exposure to everyday things in the real world. Prior to Destiny being placed in our home, she had never touched carpet, tile, grass or sand – things we see and touch nearly every day.

She had two open heart surgeries before coming home to us. In July 2013, Destiny had her third surgery with us by her side the entire time, and she pulled through it with flying colors! She has a lot of fear related to abandonment, but I think she has come to realize the promise we made to her was true: we would always be by her side, and she would never have to go through any medical procedures alone. Destiny is still delayed developmentally, but has made huge strides and is now only six months behind her typical peers.

Destiny is loved and adored by our three older kids. We are very thankful we learned about adoption and fostering. Our family will most likely adopt again, but for now we are doing foster and foster respite care.

I want to encourage other military families to look into becoming foster parents or foster/adopt parents. The children within the foster care system range from newborns to age 18. There are all races, some with special needs, but a lot more with no special needs.

Even though our homes may change every few years in a military family, yours could be the ‘forever home’ that a foster child is waiting for.

lori-brown-guest-postGuest Post by Lori Brown, Marine Corps Spouse