Dear Coast Guard Family: Transferring schools

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Once a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “Dear Coast Guard Family,” a column for Coast Guard families by Coast Guard spouse Rachel Conley. Rachel is married to her high school sweetheart, Chief Warrant Officer James Conley, and is the mother of three children. Rachel passionately serves as a Coast Guard Ombudsman and advocate of Coast Guard families. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the United States Coast Guard Ombudsman of the Year Award.

Dawn Schultz has been a Coast Guard spouse for 30 years. She also happens to be the wife of Adm. Karl Schultz, commandant of the Coast Guard, and one of our Ombudsmen-at-Large — and, with five kids, she knows a thing or two (or countless) about caring for Coast Guard-connected children.

For the Schultz family, PCS moves during the high school years presented the most challenges. 

“Three of our five children each attended different high schools, all moving their senior years,” said Dawn.  “Keeping them on track in their programs of study, involved in the sports and activities they loved, and feeling socially connected to peers was, at times, difficult.” 

While each of their children reacted differently to PCS moves, each of them found open communication to be very important, even when the conversations were tough.

“It was critical to let them know that we were there to support them and go to bat for them,” said Dawn.   

Following one move, their sons were prohibited from playing on a varsity sports team because of a local decision related to school athletic transfers.  While not intentional, this decision was disadvantaging military children.

“There was a lot of frustration for us as parents, and there was a lot of disappointment for the boys. It took nine months of letter writing, meeting with school administrators and other officials,” Dawn said.

Patience and persistence paid off, and in the end, military students were granted a waiver. 

“Being part of that sports team, friendships, games and related activities made all the difference for my boys that school year.”

Over the years, Dawn has seen her children make many sacrifices, but she’s also witnessed the benefits of a military lifestyle firsthand. 

“It fosters a more open mind to facing challenges, taking risks, and embracing new experiences,” Dawn said. “There’s a confidence that comes with the success and failures of trying new activities, establishing new friendships, and moving to unfamiliar places – and an empathy for those experiencing similar situations.  It also enhances resiliency and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. These are critical life skills that children can draw on and speak to later when applying to jobs or college.”  

As Dawn reminisces, she speaks fondly, “This life has given them a chance to live in places, and to have wonderful experiences, that they otherwise would not have been exposed to – it is an adventure, in a way, and it has brought us closer as a family.”  

Tips from Dawn

Be present, involved, and advocate:

  • School administrators and teachers may not be aware or understand the issues or your concerns, so engage and educate them.  Refer to the Military Interstate Children’s Compact and/or contact the servicing military school liaison officer to help facilitate resolution.

Listen, acknowledge, and reassure:

  • Uncertainty and a loss of control are often the hardest part of the move, so including them in the planning and decision making as much as possible can help with the transition.  Look over the school’s website together and upcoming calendar/schedule of events. 
  • Research schools and communicate with counselors prior to your PCS move, and set up an enrollment appointment as soon as possible. 
  • Hand carry a hard copy of all pertinent school (transcripts, standardized test scores, IEPs) and medical records (school physicals, immunizations). 
  • For senior year moves, be knowledgeable about graduation requirements at their new school and if considering college, reach out to teachers for college recommendations before you move and consider how residency requirements may impact their future college plans. 
  • Compile a folder including their extracurricular activities and volunteer involvement/hours, awards, etc.
  • Whatever your child’s passion, make these connections and get them involved in the activities they love or help them find a new adventure.  Look into scholarships and programs that can help offset the financial expense.

Resources to help

Military children and their families face a wide range of obstacles when transferring schools.  These resources can help ease the burden.  

  • The Military Interstate Children’s Compact eases the educational challenges that military children encounter, and supports uniform treatment as they transfer between United States public schools, as well as the Department of Defense Education Activity Schools (DoDEA).  An Interstate Compact is essentially a contract between states. This Compact addresses key educational transition issues encountered by military families, including enrollment, placement, attendance, eligibility and graduation. The Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission website offers a wealth of information!
  • The Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) offers a variety of free resources to support parents and students, including webinars on a variety of helpful topics!
  • Sesame Street for Military Families provides information and tools to support children throughout the relocation process.  They also have a mobile app, The Big Moving Adventure.  
  • Coast Guard Mutual Assistance (CGMA) offers Education Programs to help Coast Guard members and families meet their academic goals, including free access to Tutor.com for U.S. Military Families which provides one-on-one tutoring with a live expert online 24/7.  
  • Military Kids Connect (MKC) is an online community for military children (6-17 years old) that provides access to age-appropriate resources to support children dealing with the unique challenges of military life.  MKC offers informative activities, helpful videos, and an online community that can build and reinforce understanding, resilience, and coping skills.  
  • Through the Office of Work-Life School Liaison Program members and families can receive education support information, referral, and guidance to maximize the opportunity for academic success of military associated children.  
  • Khan Academy offers free online courses, lessons, and practice — students can get help with what they’re learning in school or learn something completely new!

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