It’s cold outside. That is the first thing I notice from the comfort of my window staring at a giant moving truck across the street. My neighbors – an active duty member, his spouse and two school-aged children – are moving this winter. I usually associate moving trucks with summer time PCS, end of the school year, swim parties, long and short good byes and summer vacations.
But this PCS feels different: It’s cold outside and school is in full swing, every one is overly busy with school activities and preparing for the holiday season. I can only image how chaotic my neighbor must be feeling. Moving mid-year must feel like a full life upheaval!
PCSing with school-age children can be challenging, but more than half of all military PCS’ss happen during the summer when school is wrapping up. Moving in the summer is a natural break to make a school transition, but moving mid-year is potentially more disruptive to the entire family.
According to the Department of Defense’s Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, the United States military moves roughly 530,000 service members and their families every year. More than half of those PCS’s 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.
Most mid-year movers only have a short three weeks between early withdrawal and the start of school after the holiday break – not the long three months of summer like most military families. Throw in a two major holiday’s, limited operating hours for schools, moving companies, local businesses and government agencies and military families have are faced with making slow progress for settling in.
As seasoned parents, we know school transition can be hard on children, both socially and academically. Schools curriculum and services can vary from state to state or even district to district. We’ve pulled together six critical strategies for surviving a mid-year PCS with school age kids.
- GET ORGANIZED – QUICKLY.
Preparing for school transition is not unlike preparing for a PCS. You need to gather all school documentation into one binder or folder that tells the education history of your child. It’s seems pretty simple, but organization and gathering the right documents can be time consuming. However, being prepared is key to a successful mid-year school transition.
It’s crucial to tell the education history of the military child to educators who may not be familiar with the military lifestyle. Having everything an educator needs to know about a student in a well organized, complete binder will help keep continuity in education – something many military-connected students haven’t had the luxury to experience. https://familiesonthehomefront.com/educating-the-dandelion-creating-stability-in-education-during-a-pcs/
You’ll need to assemble the following documentation, file it in a three-ring binder and hand carry it to the next location.
- Report cards – all of them, even ones from previous schools. It allows educators to know the educational history of your child.
- Schoolwork samples (spelling tests, essays, math problems, tests)
- Take photo (and print it out) of the text book covers your child is currently using
- Assessment results
- Teacher comments and conference notes
- Individual Education Plan and 504 plan
- Shot records
- Sports physicals
- Speech or occupational therapy evaluations/summaries
- Letters from teachers (to teachers), including specialty teachers (music, coaches and art teachers, for example) if applicable. Follow this link to help guide a comprehensive letter you’re the teacher. https://familiesonthehomefront.com/tell-your-childs-education-story-teacher-communication/
- Testing results (Cog AT, Iowa Assessments, Terra Nova, Lexile, reading readiness, SAT)
Need help pulling it all together? Families On The Home Front (www.FamiliesOnTheHomeFront.com) offers a free downloadable Operation Dandelion Kids Education Binder to help parents advocate for their child and help tell their child’s education history. The site offers downloadable tabs with checklists, questions to ask and advice parents.
- WORK OUT PROCESS WITH THE SCHOOL.
Early withdrawal from a school is fairly easy, but timing is critical. Parents will have to consider the school’s policy on early withdrawal before they move. In most secondary schools, a child will lose credits if they are withdrawn from school before semester ends – even just a few days. The child will have to do extra work online or during the summer to catch up with their peers. Postponing moving until the very last day of winter break creates tight timelines at the next location. Knowing the policies and doing due diligence with teachers and administrative staff will only work to your advantage in the long run.
- Meet with the teacher before withdrawing from school. This meeting is important. A parent needs to find and document the child’s academic strengthens and weaknesses before the PCS. Take detailed notes, take photos of textbook covers and ask for work samples still remaining in the classroom. Similar to a Parent-Teacher Conference, you’ll need to be prepared before the meeting. https://familiesonthehomefront.com/parent-teacher-conferences-what-questions-do-you-ask/
- School records – ask the school for official or unofficial copies of school records so you many hand carry them with you. If the school says you are unable to take a set of records with you, they are wrong. All public schools will accept unofficial transcripts and records at registration. (see MIC3.net)
- Ask how to purchase a school annual or yearbook. This may not be right for every one child, but collecting yearbooks are a way children can connect with a past through pictures. Although the annuals will not be available until spring, inquire now about how to purchase one – get on the list. Chances are there are great photos of your child in clubs, activities and with their friends.
- KNOW THE MILITARY-CONNECTED CHILDREN’S BILL OF RIGHTS.
Military families have rights and responsibilities regarding children’s education. It’s up to you as the parent to understand these rights and responsibilities.
Don’t leave your child’s right to a good education in the hands of strangers. Every state has signed the Military Interstate Children’s Compact (MIC3) which allows for common sense decisions when dealing with school transition for military connected children.
Parents need to be more informed than the schools. The Compact replaces the widely varying policies affection transition military students and allows for flexibility and consistency on the part of the receiving schools. The issues addressed by the Compact include Enrollment, Eligibility and Graduation. These issues affect every single school aged military connected child. Know your child’s right before you move. To see a full list of what the Compact covers visit www.MIC3.net for more information.
Have specific questions? Every base or post has a person designated to help parents navigate the local school systems. It is the job of the School Liaison Officer’s job is to help parents navigate the local school system. Contact them as soon as you arrive your new location to help you get a better understanding of local schools, services and programs. There are also MIC3 commissioners available to parents in every state. Check out their website for more information.
If you feel the receiving school is not complying with the intent of the Compact, the School Liaison is your first stop. Don’t be afraid to make a little noise, the Compact is a new concept to many schools and administrators may not be aware of the specifics. The Compact is state law. Just ensure you understand what the Compact covers and does not cover before you register for school.
- GATHER INFORMATION
Once the boxes are packed and loaded, it’s Go! time. Preparing for the traditionally short amount of time frame between withdrawing and registering for school, parents have to be prepared for what’s lies ahead. Gathering information and asking the right questions will help ease a student’s transition.
- 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 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.
- IEP/504 – How does the new school handle new students with IEP/504 plans, documented academic struggles and/or academic discrepancies? If you are unsure of what encompasses special education, for this link for more information. https://familiesonthehomefront.com/special-education-101-what-you-need-to-know-to-start-the-year-off-right/
- Gifted Ed? What do they offer for Gifted and Talented students? Not all schools are equal when it comes to curriculum or testing.
- Peers – Does the school offer a way for your child to connect with a peers before school is back in session such as social media groups or clubs.
- Secondary students – Understand transferring credits, graduation requirements, ranking and how to determine appropriate academic placement.
- 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.
- The Compact – Print out a copy of the Compact to bring with you when registering at the receiving school.
- KEEPING IN TOUCH
Even though it’s cold outside, it shouldn’t stop kids from enjoying their friendships before they leave. Before moving out, make sure children have a proper goodbye to their friends at school and in the neighborhood – it does make a difference. Below are a few simple ideas that could help kids feel connected to people they are leaving behind.
- Ornaments – Have an ornament exchange with a fun group of kids. It’s great way to stay connected and build memories for years to come. Buy a few dozen blank ball ornaments and write your contact information on the ornament with a Sharpie. It’s a cute and creative way to connect with other military families and friends through the holidays – consider it your Holiday card!
- Have a goodbye party! Don’t let the cold stop you from throwing a party. A bowling alley, group painting class, laser tag, community center or indoor swimming are great places for kids to have fun. It’s important to make the goodbye’s fun and not sad. Leaving with laughter is easier than leaving with tears.
- Technology – FaceTime, Skype and Facebook all offer online video chatting. Make sure to gather all contact information and have kids practice a time or two chatting with each other.
- Online games – There are dozens of great online games that children of all ages can play together, even if they are continents a part. The younger ones can play safe games like Animal Jam and Wizards 101. Older kids can use their games for Wii, PlayStation and Xbox to stay in touch with their friends. https://familiesonthehomefront.com/how-tech-savvy-kids-can-stay-connected-after-a-move/
- FAMILY AND ROUTINES
Taking care of the family unit is critical during transition. Between the loss of a support system to the feelings of fear and anxiety – a mid-year move can play havoc with the mental health of the military family.
Stay positive, stay calm and stay real. Establish reasonable goals for each member of the family, especially the children. It’s normal to be scared or feel anxiety, let them feel it, don’t patronize it away. They don’t have the life perspective of adults to know things will be eventually settle down. Be encouraging, not demanding to “shake off” the sadness after a move.
Once you’ve settled in and happen to notice your children aren’t quite back to themselves socially or academically, it might be a good idea to ask for little help.
- A school psychologist is assigned to every school; ask for an appointment with or without your child. You’ll gain insight into the school; staff will keep the child on their radar and help you find ways to ease the transition.
- Military Family Life Consultants (MLFC) are highly trained professionals familiar with the military life style. They are available to children and adults – and it’s free, too. Contact your local FRG or Family Readiness Center.
- Military One Source is a one-stop shop for resources for the military family. There is free counseling offered to any member of your family and it can be performed online, in person (off base/post) or over the phone. militaryonesoure.com
Most children will take their cues regarding how they feel directly from parents. If parents stay positive, chances are the children will, too. Don’t forget to make memories! Military connected children can be resilient and surprise us with how they see the world. Let them lead if their ready.
Yes, it’s cold outside. For more than 250,000 military personnel and their families, moving can’t wait until convenience of summer. And for military families with school-age children moving this winter – saying goodbye to friends, moving to a new location and starting a new school is just a part of military life, they just do it in winter jackets.