From the Homefront: Back to school 2015

I don’t know about you, but as a parent, the new school year fills me with a bit of trepidation. And if we are new to a school district, I worry even more. I put together some resources for military families as we greet the new year. There are a lot of (free!) programs out there to help us adjust, no matter what obstacle we’re facing.

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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 aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 14 years. She currently serves as on the board of directors for the Military Family Advisory Network.

Written by Shelley Kimball

I don’t know about you, but as a parent, the new school year fills me with a bit of trepidation. And if we are new to a school district, I worry even more.

I put together some resources for military families as we greet the new year. There are a lot of (free!) programs out there to help us adjust, no matter what obstacle we’re facing.

I want to start with the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. In a nutshell, it’s a policy adopted in all 50 states that gives military families more consistency in the ways school districts receive our children.

The compact is the primary resource I recommend to families, and it is the most popular topic readers contact me about. The compact helps us with some common obstacles to transition like placement, enrollment, eligibility and graduation requirements.

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.
Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

There is a great interactive map to help you find information about how your state handles it. The number one resource on that map is contact information for the experts in your area to help you when you hit an obstacle. Not every school district is aware of the compact or is using it regularly, so we have found that a lot of people need that expert guide.

I recently attended the national conference of the Military Child Education Coalition, a nonprofit organization that is geared specifically to the educational issues military kids face. You’ll be hearing a lot more from me throughout the year about the topics and resources presented, but I wanted to draw you to the organization now because they have so much to offer families at this time of year.

MCEC recognizes how hard it can be for military kids to adjust to new schools, and it provides online resources for children of all ages, their families and educators.

Julian Ortegon is starting the first grade.
Julian Ortegon is starting the first grade.

“Our military kids are often in the role of  ‘new kid,’ and that brings with it many challenges,” said Cindy Simerly, the vice president of fund development and marketing for MCEC. “They’re faced with a variety of concerns that range from, ‘Who will I sit with at lunch?’ to ‘Will I be behind/ahead in my classes?’ or ‘Is there still time for me to tryout for teams or participate in extracurricular activities?’”

MCEC developed SchoolQuest a website that helps parents find and compare schools within the radius of a military installation. It also has information to help make sense of whether the state you live in participates in Common Core or has its own education standards. There are even checklists for transitioning to new schools, for kids with a variety of educational needs.

Simerly said she also recommends families take time to get somewhat familiar with new schools and communities before school starts.

“Remember that you are bringing a wealth of experiences as a military child or family to your new community,” Simerly said. “If possible, arrive early to your new community to try to get a sense of where everything is and what is available. Stop by the new school itself, or even the district office. School personnel are often helpful in orienting families to the wider community, in addition to the school community.”

Hannah Goldman is starting college.
Hannah Goldman is starting college.

When it comes to starting the new school year, one of our greatest worries can be how to know whether our kids are doing well, and whether that will translate in their next school districts. Be a Learning Hero is a partnership among national education organizations that encourages families to advocate for their students by offering information and resources to understand the expectations in each state.

It recently joined with the National PTA and Scholastic to introduce the Super 5, a free back-to-school toolkit to help parents make the most out of the new school year. The resources are organized into five tips for a successful school year:

1. Keep the goal in mind: Find out the goals that are set out for your child in his or her school. This changes as we move, so there are links available for figuring out the kinds of state testing that is used in your area, as well as other kinds of milestones by grade or by state.

2. Maximize your child’s potential: There are resources available to figure out what test scores mean for your child and how to get support in specific learning areas.

3. Be involved: This may include volunteering in your child’s school, if your time allows for it. If not, there are also strategies available for connecting with your child’s school and teachers throughout the school year.

4. Character counts: Perseverance, curiosity and hard work have a direct effect on school success. Check out resources on emotional smarts.

5. Bring it home: There are lots of resources available so that we don’t have to struggle to help our kids with their homework. For example, Homework Help Desk has aggregated common questions about homework by grade, and Khan Academy (a favorite in our house) provides interactive explanations for a long list of topics.

The Super 5 program is especially helpful to military families because we may have more complications finding the help we need for our kids, said Laura Bay, the National PTA president.

Delilah Hall, age 7, and her brother Landon, 3, have different reasons for being excited about the school year.
Delilah Hall, age 7, and her brother Landon, 3, have different reasons for being excited about the school year.

“Parents and guardians everywhere want to be heroes for their kids, and BeALearningHero.org provides them with the resources they need to start the school year strong. The SUPER 5 tips are especially relevant to military families, who may be starting at new schools where it can be even tougher to identify resources and get to know a new educational environment,” Bay said. “With Be A Learning Hero and the Super 5, military parents can be empowered to ask the right questions and have the tools they need for a great school year.”

Resources:

Military Child Education Coalition : A nonprofit organization devoted to helping families and educators assist military kids as they adjust to new schools and thrive while there. MCEC also has an interactive community to help parents connect to each other and share thoughts and resources.

SchoolQuest : Not only is there a section of this website, sponsored by MCEC, that allows you to compare schools near military installations, it also provides learning resources for many ages and stages of your child’s educational experience.

Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission : Also called MIC3, this group works to ensure that military families reap the benefits of the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. There are tons of resources here to help both educators and parents understand what rights the compact protects.

Interstate compact interactive map : Find your state on this map to access information on how the compact is interpreted. Most importantly, you can find contact information for the experts in your state who can help you overcome any obstacles to using the compact.

Checklists for transitioning to new schools

Be a Learning Hero : This partnership of national education educations, including PTA and Scholastic, provides resources to encourage parents to advocate for their children’s education.

Homework Helpdesk : This website has pulled together frequently asked questions by grade and subject. It also has a section for parents to get answers to homework questions from teachers who work in the subject field.

Khan Academy : Free interactive classes about more topics than I can list here. This nonprofit company provides different modes of instruction, depending on your child’s learning style, from quick explanations, to more in-depth videos, to quizzes.

What are your favorite tips or resources to help kids adjust to new schools or new school years? Share your thoughts and experiences below!

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.

From the Homefront: Back to school

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