From the Homefront: Back to school

We just moved again, and the first thing I did when I got to Northern Virginia was to register my kids for school. I was dreading it. It can be complicated, and I just wasn’t up to having to argue about placements and documentation from the last school. I know I am not alone in dreading all the coordination and planning involved in starting a new school. Getting ready for every school year, even if you’ve been there for a while, can be stressful. So I asked some Coastie spouses to join me in offering tips for getting prepared.

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Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of requirements and analysis at Coast Guard headquarters, for 13 years. She serves as an advisor for the Military Family Advisory Network and a research analyst for Blue Star Families.

The Tickell boys, from left, Thomas, R.J. and Chase, start a new school year in a new city. Photo courtesy of the Tickell family.
The Tickell boys, from left, Thomas, R.J. and Chase, start a new school year in a new city. Photo courtesy of the Tickell family.

Written by Shelley Kimball

Photo by Bill Keefrey.
Photo by Bill Keefrey.

I love new school supplies more than most people, and the start of the school year is one of my favorite times of year. However, as a parent, getting kids ready for school to start can be a logistical nightmare.

We just moved again, and the first thing I did when I got to Northern Virginia was to register my kids for school. I was dreading it. It can be complicated, and I just wasn’t up to having to argue about placements and documentation from the last school.

I worried for nothing. The registration forms had a block to check at the top to signify that we are a military family. That automatically flagged us for the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, and getting the kids the placements and services they needed was much easier than I expected.

As an aside, as of last week, every state in the country has joined the Compact. For an overview of how it works with some great links to resources, check out a previous From the Homefront column.

As I was registering the kids, the school secretary asked me if I was a military spouse. When I told her I was, she handed me a huge folder of information about the school district, as well as services and resources for military families in the area. I thanked her profusely and told her I wish every military spouse I know could be greeted this way in their new school districts.

I was so relieved. I know I am not alone in dreading all the coordination and planning involved in starting a new school. Getting ready for every school year, even if you’ve been there for a while, can be stressful.

So I asked some Coastie spouses to join me in offering tips for getting prepared.

My tip: Familiarize yourself now with the Compact – find the name of the liaison in your school district who is trained to help military families navigate the process, and learn how the Compact works before you think you need it. You know I’m going to say it, right? Semper Paratus.

Nathan and Cailyn Webster are enthusiastic about their first day of school. Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class John Webster.
Nathan and Cailyn Webster are enthusiastic about their first day of school. Photo courtesy of Petty Officer 2nd Class John Webster.

Petty Officer 2nd Class John Webster: Start early on the first day.

Pauline Elam: One tip I use for my kids is to visit the school beforehand. We try and visit the school and take a tour or meet the teachers so the first day is not as overwhelming. If they usually take the bus, we also like to drive and pick them up the first day. I like to reassure them that everyone is nervous that first day, not just the new kids but teachers too. Oh and one last thing – smile! Being friendly can help with meeting new friends.

Morgan Knauss: Start the school day schedule a few days before school actually starts so they have time to adjust (ie, earlier wakeup/bedtime).

Tina Kicklighter: I always try to get the kids motivated to go back to school by talking to them about all of the perks of school, such as seeing friends, Scholastic book orders (my kids love them), sports, clubs, ice cream days! I always try to override their negative feelings by trying to find as many positives about school as I can.

Jennette Ippolito: To get ready for the new school year, I let the kids go supply shopping with me. They get excited picking out their supplies. Another thing we do is get up at “school time” the week before, that way we are not shocked by the earliness of day one.

Stacy Bilodeau: A tip for toddlers going back to preschool – always pack a change of clothes and a water bottle.

LauryAnn Lalicker has her supplies ready for kindergarten. Photo courtesy of Christi Lalicker.
LauryAnn Lalicker has her supplies ready for kindergarten. Photo courtesy of Christi Lalicker.

Christi Lalicker: For those who attend private school or schools that require uniforms, I suggest looking to see if there’s an area that parents are able to donate uniforms that their children have grown that you can rummage through. It definitely saves money for sure. Once you have found sizes for the donation box, then you can figure out what you need to buy (tights, dress socks, extra shirts, etc). For school supplies, I acquired them on a huge sale! I looked at all of the stores ads and got the best deals ever. In fact, I spent less then $30 for school supplies and that was even buying extra supplies!

Deanne Bland: I don’t really have any tips for the first day of school, but I do have three things the Bland family always does:

1. We read The Kissing Hand the night before school starts. It helps still having a 4-year-old in the house. You can kind of play it off that it’s for her, not the 13- and 11-year-old, but it’s really for them too.

2. The kids get one new outfit and new shoes (key with the boys) and they can’t wear them until the first day. The anticipation of the new shoes is very big with my boys.

3. I bake cookies to have as a snack when they get home from school. It’s the one day of the year I don’t make them go find something healthy to eat when they get home.

Maria Berkovics: Prepare as much as possible the night before, so you are not rushing to get the backpack, lunch box, school supplies, etc. ready in the morning.

Lisa Tickell: Things that I do every year but are vital for us during a PCS year:

Take advantage of any open house and meet and greets that the school offers. If you are new to the area and have missed the dates, then call the school office and explain that you are a military family and would like to just show your child where they will be attending school and possibly show them their classroom. This has been a great help to us in the past.

Zach Sterrett on his first day of kindergarten. Photo courtesy of Melissa Sterrett.
Zach Sterrett on his first day of kindergarten. Photo courtesy of Melissa Sterrett.

We also make sure to put a notecard in each child’s backpack with the name of their teacher and their classroom number on one side and their name, bus route info, address and phone number on the other side (for those years we are at a new house where they don’t know the address yet).

I have a file with dividers and each child has their own file with last report card, copy of shots, IEP paperwork if applicable, registration documents and the other dividers are for bus information, school calendars, bell schedule, etc.

Anastasia Petty: Whenever practical, walk your kids to and from school, it’s a great way to spend time together, be healthy and talk about the day. Also, many schools ask for labeled school supplies. Save time and print labels from your computer with your child’s name so you don’t have to write it over and over when labeling supplies.

Melissa Sterrett: Before kids, I taught second grade. I would say one of the biggest tips is try to help in the classroom when you can. Even if it’s volunteering to read a book to the class every so often. Anything helps, and plus, the kids love it!

How do you prepare your kids for the new school year? Share your tips and advice below!

While you think about what tips you want to share, let me leave you with some of the fabulous kids who benefit from the wisdom of these Coastie moms and dads on their first days of school.

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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