From the Homefront: Working together to eliminate anxiety about the new school year

As the buses arrive the anxiety rises, both for parents and kids. The end of summer is the beginning of school, and with that comes nervousness about a school year filled with unknowns. Learn how to calm those fears! One Coast Guard spouse took matters into her own hands and developed a program to help kids adjust to their schools. Meanwhile, Coastie kids offer advice to each other about how to get the most out of this school year.

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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 15 years. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Military Family Advisory Network .

Military Kids Buddy Program
Military Kids Buddy Program

As the buses arrive the anxiety rises, both for parents and kids. The end of summer is the beginning of school, and with that comes nervousness about a school year filled with unknowns.

One Coast Guard spouse took matters into her own hands and developed a program to help kids adjust to their schools. Meanwhile, Coastie kids offer advice to each other about how to get the most out of this school year.

Erica Parra started the Military Child Buddy Program in an effort to provide a free way for military kids to adjust to new schools. She was selected as the Armed Forces Insurance Coast Guard District 5 spouse of the year, in part because of her efforts developing the program.

“I created this program to make it easy and free to help military kids ease into their new school environment,” Parra said. “The goal is to have families feel more connected to the school and community and the student feel less stressed about being the new kid once again.”

Erica Parra developed a Buddy program for military kids to help them adjust and thrive at new schools. Photo courtesy of Erica Parra.
Erica Parra developed a Buddy program for military kids to help them adjust and thrive at new schools. Photo courtesy of Erica Parra.

The Buddy Program matches military kids new to a school with military kids who have already been at a school. They are matched by grade and gender through the school itself. Developing the program requires getting approval from the school’s administration to put together a list of military-connected kids and families who are willing to act as support contacts for new kids and families. Then, as the new families come in, the program is offered to them as an option for getting acclimated.

In the days before school starts, the kids and their families connect to meet and talk about the school. The documents that come with the program include conversation prompts for the kids, like explaining how lunch works, or sharing what a favorite school event is like.

Parra said that her volunteer work in her own three kids’ schools made her recognize the need for a way to connect new students to their peers. She said that while her program focuses on elementary kids, it can be tailored to older kids. However, she said, there is a specific need for younger kids to get help finding their way.

“I noticed a widespread perception that younger students adapt easier than their older counterparts,” she said. “In fact the opposite is true. Studies have shown that younger students feel just as much stress at starting a new school as middle and high school students. Younger children are at a disadvantage in their emotional maturity and may be unable to articulate feelings of stress.”

Parra said the program can be stood up just about anywhere, as long as there is one volunteer willing to act as a liaison between the school and the participating families. She knows from experience as she and her family recently transferred to Singapore, where her husband is the chief of inspections for Coast Guard Activities Far East and supervisor of the Marine Inspection Detachment.

“I want families to know that buddy programs are not just nice-to-haves. They are essential to military students, and there is research that backs this claim up,” she said. “The buddy program needs military parents to start it and run it so our kids can have better, less stressful transitions.”

From left to right: (Photo 1) Hunter Gourde, 10, and his brother, Brooks Gourde. Photo courtesy of Brandi Gourde. (Photo 2) Bethany Bilodeau, 5, just started Kindergarten in her new community in Hawaii. Photo courtesy of Stacey Bilodeau. (Photo 3) Jeffersonn Cediel, 13, and his brother Jason, 7. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Cediel.
From left to right: (Photo 1) Hunter Gourde, 10, and his brother, Brooks Gourde. Photo courtesy of Brandi Gourde. (Photo 2) Bethany Bilodeau, 5, just started Kindergarten in her new community in Hawaii. Photo courtesy of Stacey Bilodeau. (Photo 3) Jeffersonn Cediel, 13, and his brother Jason, 7. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Cediel.

Sometimes kids can be the best voices of encouragement for their peers.

Several Coastie kids offered their insights on how they prepare for a new school year:

  • Think about the good things that might happen: new friends, new teachers, maybe a new playground.  Caroline Smith, 8, daughter of Chief Petty Officer Jeffrey and Maggie Smith, will be reminding herself of all of the potential at her new school this year. Her family recently transferred from Long Island, New York, to Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
  • If you’re dreading going back to school, try to remind yourself of the fun you had the last year. And have a “last hurrah” where you have fun. Jeffersonn Cediel, age 13. He is the son of Petty Officer First Class Jeffersonn and Stephanie Cediel
  • If you’re nervous, just do your work. After a few weeks, you probably won’t be nervous anymore. Jason Cediel, age 7.
  • You will not be the only new student in school, and you will find a friend. Hunter Gourd, 10, son of Chief Petty Officer Jeremy and Brandi Gourde.
  • All kids get nervous about starting a new grade, not just military kids. Brooks Gourde, 9.
  • Have fun! Succinct advice from Bethany Bilodeau, 5, who in the span of one week moved with her family to Hawaii and started Kindergarten. She is the daughter of Petty Officer Second Class Jeremy and Stacey Bilodeau.

 

Madelyn Vaeth, 13, daughter of Chief Petty Officer Anthony and Tiffany Vaeth, recently moved with her family from Florida to Washington State. She offers a teenager’s perspective on getting ready for the new school year. She said:

  • Whether it’s a new state, country, or even just a new city in the same state it’s always nerve-racking for some kids to go to a new school or just entering a new grade. So here’s some advice to help you out –  
    • Don’t worry too much about what other people think of you.
    • Don’t make a lot of friends who don’t know the real you. Make two or three, or even just one, who by the time you move considers you more of a sibling than a friend. 
    • Don’t put up with other people’s drama because it’s not worth it.
    • Stand up for yourself and others. 
    • Have fun and surround yourself with people who make you forget that you’re moving in three to four years. 
    • And finally, what my dad calls Life’s Rule, “Be cool, and don’t be a jerk.”
From left to right: (Photo 1) Caroline Smith, 8, and her brother Liam, 6, on the first day of school last year. Photo courtesy of Maggie Smith. (Photo 2) Madelyn Vaeth, 13, is starting a new school this year after moving with her family from Florida to Washington State. Photo courtesy of Tiffany Vaeth.
From left to right: (Photo 1) Caroline Smith, 8, and her brother Liam, 6, on the first day of school last year. Photo courtesy of Maggie Smith. (Photo 2) Madelyn Vaeth, 13, is starting a new school this year after moving with her family from Florida to Washington State. Photo courtesy of Tiffany Vaeth.

What is your advice for kids getting ready for a new school year? Share your thoughts below!

Resources:

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.
Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

1) Military Child Buddy Program: Documentation can be downloaded here, and Parra can be reached at militarychildbuddyprogram@gmail.com.

2) CG Support resources: This link provides a run-down of the many programs housed on the CG SUPRT website for military kids during the school year.

3) Checklist for transitioning students: The Military Child Education Coalition has a variety of resources, including checklist for a students and parents to use when starting a new school.

4) Know your rights: The Interstate Compact on Education Opportunity for Military Children is now accepted in all 50 states It helps provide consistency in education as military kids move from school to school.

5) Military Student Identifier: This data tracking program will begin this year in an effort to better understand military kids’ education experiences.

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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