For many families with orders to a new duty station, one of the first questions that come up is, “What about the schools?” And knowing where to start researching and what questions to ask can be a daunting task for any parent.
Military families have an added benefit that most civilian parents don’t have: access to a School Liaison Officer (SLO) or Military Child Education Specialist, who are familiar with local school districts and state Department of Education. It is their job to help military families navigate the school systems and know how to advocate for their children. Most are well versed on special education procedures and the process for Individualized Education Programs (IEP) and 504 Plans, and can help you either get one, or transfer an existing plan from your former school district.
When my family moved to our current location, it was different than all the other moves. This time, it was our first military move with a child. Arriving at our new home, I felt confident that I had done all of my homework and that we were ready. After school started, I quickly became overwhelmed realizing how unprepared I actually was.
I found out numerous times that there were answers to questions that I hadn’t even thought to ask, like how do Parent/Teacher Conferences get scheduled? What happens on a snow delay? (I don’t come from an area where it snows, so when I heard “two hour delay,” I thought that meant they would also get out two hours late). And there were several other things that came up that I learned after the fact.
A few months into being at our new school, it became apparent that my son needed some accommodations in order to be able to be successful in the new school. His new school had a different grading scale, were way more tech-dependent, and moved at a faster pace than what he was used to, and he was struggling academically. The teachers were amazingly helpful and willing to make accommodations, but we discovered that we needed to put my son on a 504 plan in order to clarify what sort of assistance he required, and to keep everyone on the same page. Thankfully, I had already met our installation’s SLO and was able to get assistance from her in getting my child evaluated and getting all of the necessary documentation that the school required.
My best piece of advice for military families is to introduce yourself to key people early on, and know what resources are available to you at your new location. Attend Parent Info nights, Back to School nights, and any other events that help you meet your teachers. Take advantage of Parent/Teacher Conferences, and email your child’s teacher’s to keep lines of communication open. When issues arise, I have found that it is helpful if the teachers already know who you are.
Many teachers are using email blasts and other technical resources such as Remind app or Blackboard to disseminate information to parents, so you will want to download and register for those. On the installation, attend any KUDOS/TUDOS, SLO outreach events, and any other programs that might be helpful for learning more about the resources available at each location.
Other helpful resources for parents are the Military Child Education Coalition and Military OneSource. MCEC has resources for both parents/students and education professionals to help military children. Military OneSource has an array of resources and information; including references to after school care and summer programs.
Navigating the school system might be difficult at first, but you will find that you have a wealth of resources and people who are there to help you.
What advice do you have for parents who are moving with a school-aged child? Leave a comment and share!
Posted by Jennifer Burns, NMFA Volunteer and military spouse