By: Lizann Lightfoot
PCS season — when service members receive permanent station change orders — is right around the corner, which means military-bound kids across the country are preparing to relocate and enroll in a new school. If you’re a parent or caregiver of a military-related child, you’ve probably seen how difficult it can be for your child to start over and make new friends…again. However, there are steps you can take to make sure your child’s transition to a new school goes as smoothly as possible.
- Start your research early. You can start researching a new duty station before your service member has official orders. School options will be directly related to the area where the student will be living, so it is important to research schools and housing options at the same time. Use websites that provide school “grades” to get a general overview of local options, but don’t rely solely on these reports. Try reaching out to local spouse groups or neighborhood groups for more detailed information and feedback. You can also call potential schools and speak with the principal or administrator to see if the school is right for your child. Be sure to ask about school year start and end dates, the enrollment process, and transfer credit requirements.
- Contact a school liaison officer. An SLO (School Liaison Officer) is an excellent resource for military families. Contact the RES located at your current facility to obtain your child’s essential documents. Then, contact your new facility’s SLO to learn about local school options and get more information about the transfer process. You can learn more about SLOs and find SLOs in your community by visiting the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA).
- Know your child’s rights. The interstate pact protects the rights of military children moving to new school districts. It details their ability to enroll at the appropriate level, continue the advanced courses they were taking previously, and pass exams or graduate on time. The Compact also ensures that students with special needs can continue to receive necessary treatment and services.
During the move:
- Essential documents to carry with you. Gather all the documents you will need to enroll your child in their new school. Do not pack these documents in moving boxes, as they could be lost during the move. Be sure to include immunization records, recent medical exams, birth certificates, income verification (service member’s LES), and school application. You should also have your child’s school binder, discussed below, with you. Once you arrive at your new location, keep a copy of your lease, mortgage, or utility bill to show proof of residency.
- Create an educational workbook. This should include, at a minimum, your child’s report cards, any IEP documents or 504 plans, teacher comments, standardized test scores, gifted and talented designation, and examples of recent work. You can also include comments from coaches or teachers of elective classes, notes from parent/teacher conferences, and a list of any awards received. Recording all of this information in one place will make it easier to give new teachers and administration a quick overview of your child’s needs and abilities.
- Discuss school with your child. Take the time to listen to their concerns and discuss how you can overcome these challenges together. Try to maintain a positive attitude towards the move and point out the new opportunities and experiences the move may bring. Research sports teams, extracurricular activities, and clubs that your child might be interested in and help them make new friends. Arrange a visit so they can visit their new school before their first day and talk about their daily routines.
- Follow up with teacher conferences. You don’t have to wait for the next scheduled parent/teacher conference to meet with your child’s teacher. Organize a parent/teacher meeting in the first weeks after your child’s arrival. This is a good time to discuss any details of military life (moving, deployment, previous duty stations) that the teacher may not be familiar with, and to check on your child’s placement levels and his or her enrollment in special programs. If you have an educational binder for your child, you can discuss any gaps in the curriculum your child has experienced and how best to fill those gaps.
Starting out at a new school is a challenge for kids of any age related to the military, but early planning and communication can help ease the transition and set your child up for success.
Lizann Lightfoot is a Marine Corps wife, mother of five, and author. She posts resources and encouragement for military families on her blog. Alongside her husband, she completed 7 deployments and 6 PCS moves (including one overseas posting). When she’s not writing, she enjoys exploring new areas and, of course, chocolate.