From The Homefront: High school transfers

Military kids who transfer during high school face uncertainty about their standing and when they will graduate. Meanwhile, their families may face decisions about whether to live separately or to leave the service to avoid the disruption.

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

Written by Shelley Kimball

They may miss prom, class trips, tryouts for sports teams. Or even worse, they may miss graduation and have to stay in high school an extra year.

Military kids who transfer during high school face uncertainty about their standing and when they will graduate. Meanwhile, their families may face decisions about whether to live separately or to leave the service to avoid the disruption.

Capt. Jim Passarelli and his wife, Jennifer, have lived apart to keep their son, Nicholas, 17, in one high school. Their daughter, Julia, 15, is considering a virtual school after their next move. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Passarelli.

“Each child is different, each assignment location is different, and you need to evaluate each of these separately,” said Jennifer Passarelli, a Coast Guard spouse whose family has lived apart to provide stability for their children.

There are about 630,000 children of active duty military parents. About 25% of those are high-school aged. The Military Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunities for Military Children is an agreement among all states to ease the educational transition when military kids move.

There are three specific areas in the compact (Chapter 400) for high school students:

• Waiver for specific graduation requirements: If the receiving school requires certain classes, projects, or service hours as a condition for graduation, and those requirements are likely to be an obstacle to graduation, the school should consider accepting similar work from the sending school or waiving the requirements altogether.

• Exit exams should be accommodated: Receiving schools should either accept similar work from the sending school or provide alternate testing, such as a national norm-referenced test.

• Senior year transfers: If a student transfers during senior year, and the receiving school cannot find a way to help the student become eligible for graduation, then the sending school might be able to certify the graduation requirements.

The Military Interstate Compact Commission assists in making sure the compact works. About 1/3 of the requests for assistance the commission fielded last year (the greatest amount for any topic) were from families dealing with high school students’ issues.

Every state in the country has agreed to comply with the compact.  Families who need help should first contact administrators at their children’s schools, district administrators, or the commissioner for their states.

Because military families move an average of two to three years, it is likely their high school students will attend more than one school.

Families living apart

Trying to ensure a student’s stability may mean that military families either live apart by geobaching, or they consider studying at home by using an online high school. The Passarelli family is likely to do both.

Jennifer Passarelli said that when her son, who is now a senior, was just about to begin his junior year, her husband received orders from Florida to California.

Their son was thriving in his school, a highly ranked small public school that focuses on college readiness.

“We were all worried about moving to a place where the schools are larger, the class choices are not the same and fitting in as a junior would be hard, especially with dad heading out to sea fairly frequently,” she said.

They decided to stay in Florida so their son could finish out high school while her husband took the job in California.

Passarelli’s husband is up for orders again this summer, and they are trying to decide what is best for their daughter, who is a sophomore in high school this year.

“We are again faced with some tough decisions,” Passarelli said. “At this time we aren’t sure which location we will be called to, but as a family, we know that it is time for all of us to be moving together.”

Rather than geobach a second time, they are considering whether to enroll their daughter in a school in their new city or enroll her in an online virtual high school. Florida Virtual School looks like a promising option for their daughter, Passarelli said, as it would allow for academic flexibility, her credits would transfer, and she would be able to stay part of the graduating class she is in now.

These experiences have taught Passarelli that each set of orders may bring a new set of decisions with new potential solutions.

“What is best for one may not be best for the other,” she said. “Have discussions about pros and cons with the entire family — what are you looking for with the high school experience with your child.”

When credits won’t transfer

The Griffins have had a difficult time trying to get high school credits to transfer to new schools. From left, Taylor, 18, Leah, 17, Nick, 15, and Lainey, 8. Photo courtesy of Macy Griffin.

Macy Griffin’s step-daughter had to take an extra year to graduate from high school after moving from Puerto Rico to Washington state, where they were stationed.

“The graduation requirements were so difficult she had to repeat junior year,” Griffin said.

And now her 17-year-old daughter is taking a freshman-level class in high school because her science credits didn’t transfer from Washington State to Virginia.

“The schools just didn’t line up very well,” she said.

All of this upheaval is the main reason her husband is retiring from active duty at the end of this school year. They have two more children, and they want them to have consistency as they make their way through school.

“We were trying to stay the long haul, but as they get older, it gets so challenging,” Griffin said. “Having to make the choice of living with the one you love or making your kids suffer. It’s been a rough process.”

Griffin said that while getting the first two girls through school she learned that she had to be a strong advocate for her kids in their schools. She had to argue to get them in the classes they needed, even if they were in a different grade than is usually allowed, or trying to get credits to transfer.

“Sometimes you have to work harder to ensure they don’t miss out on opportunities they deserve,” she said.

Rankings may change

The Johnson family is geobaching and timing out billets to try to keep their younger son in one high school. CWO Darryl Johnson, his wife Debi, and their sons Kaiden, 12, and Noah, 19. Photo courtesy of Debi Johnson.

Debi Johnson, a Coast Guard spouse and the mother of two boys, said that an unexpected result of moving during high school was that her son’s class ranking dropped.

Johnson’s son Noah completed his freshman year at a small school in Michigan. He got top marks, and he was on track to be competitive for valedictorian.

They moved the summer before his sophomore year and he enrolled in a much larger school that offered weighted classes. The first school did not offer the Advanced Placement or Pre-AP classes that the new school did. By the end of his sophomore year, his ranking at the larger school had dropped dramatically, though his grades were still excellent.

“He was devastated,” Johnson said.

To counteract the discrepancy, Noah took additional weighted classes for the rest of his high school career.

“Through a lot of hard work and dedication, he was able to climb back up in the class ranking,” she said.

The Johnsons also have a son in 7th grade. Knowing what happened with their eldest son made them decide to geobach for a two-year billet so that their son would not be in high school during the next move.

“It’s something I always said I wouldn’t do, but you change your mind,” she said. “The obstacles Noah faced in high school were the sole reasons we changed our minds.”

The next billet should be for four years, so their son will be able to stay at one high school.

Priorities may change depending on the duty station and the teen’s preferences, Johnson said. It’s important for the whole family to find the right solution together.

“Make sure that your priorities align,” she said. “Sometimes we forget that these little beings have pretty deep emotions, preferences and opinions.”

Learned from experience

Military spouses who have moved during their kids’ high school years offered more advice:

Contact the new high school for the school calendar. Christine England said she would get the new school’s calendar as early as she could so that she could make sure her kids had time to sign up for the next year’s activities.

Choose classes judiciously. England said she encouraged her daughters to take classes that would be accepted nationally (for example, opting out of a state history class for U.S. history.) And take interesting electives that may not be offered at the next school.

Help kids maintain their long-distance friendships: Kim Allen, who was a military kid herself, helps her kids travel back to see their friends from their old schools, and welcomes those friends to come visit.

Parents know best: Christy Ward’s son Ian is a graduating senior this year. After attending nine differentschools, moving just before his sophomore year was the best thing for him. He is thriving in Maryland, and he has a lot of family support. “You will get a lot of advice, some positive, some negative,” Ward said, “but at the end of the day only you will know what is best for your child.”

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.
Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

How have you helped your teens deal with moving during high school? Share your advice and experiences below!

Resources for using the compact:

The Military Interstate Compact: This agreement is meant to ensure that the children of active duty military parents are treated fairly at schools when moving from state to state.

The Military Interstate Compact Commission: This organization specifically addresses the educational issues military families face due to PCS moves. This link has a great overview of the forms and state rules, statutes, and profiles. It accepts submissions of information about whether the compact is serving military families.

Department of Defense compact information: This site also has an interactive map for each state as well as tool kits for parents.

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