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The U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) reports that military children move six to nine times throughout their school years. As parents, this is a daunting statistic as you realize how important each school is as the kids move through grade levels. Of course, interrupted schooling isn’t ideal, but one of the best perks of military service is the opportunity for your kids to attend the schools of your choice each PCS.
School options are plentiful, and it’s reassuring to have a little control over an unpredictable military lifestyle, but the amount of information may seem overwhelming when you start a school search. Ultimately, the intent is to choose the best school that readily mixes with other important quality of life factors such as BAH restrictions and commute times.
Do You Know About These Resources for Military Kids? They could make all the difference during your PCS move.
School Deadlines and Timeliness
Military families often rely on personal experience for the best ways to begin their hunt, but there are research tools designed to make the process simpler and more efficient. During your search, keep in mind that two factors remain steadfast when school shopping: timeliness and word-of-mouth reviews.
Regardless of the avenue, public, private, or homeschooling, there will always be a deadline to meet. In particular, the most popular magnet or charter schools often require a lottery for acceptance and specific dates for registration to enter. It’s wise to understand those processes as soon as the "Where are we moving next?" questions begin.
Personal experiences and referrals from your friends and their friends are invaluable. Begin networking and exploring. Read blogs, Facebook pages, and neighborhood forums relevant to your city. Post a general inquiry about what the schools are like in the area, and the answers will pour in. Moms and dads love to talk about their kids’ lives! Examine the general trend and ignore the worst and best comments to formulate an opinion based on the overall tone of the reviews.
If you’re worried about the transition, these 7 Tips to Help Your Military Kid Cope with PCS will put your mind at ease.
The Best Places to Research Schools
If you maintain a portfolio of trusted resources, each move and school roundup will be a little less mysterious. So start with these websites to build your school research strategy.
State-to-state moves are somewhat more complicated than intra-state moves. The knowledge you’ve gleaned from your school district in California will not likely be relevant to your new school system in Florida. This Department of Education site compiles important testing scores, national rankings, and state-to-state comparisons. It allows parents to see how public and private schools stack up by assembling results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
The Military Child Education Coalition provides families this resource to navigate the entire process of moving, not only school searches. In addition to an extensive library full of military child-related topics, there are many articles on easing the transitions to a new home and new school. There is also a guide to understanding the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission.
State Boards of Education explain an overall view of education philosophies and goals for each school year. Budget information and state standard testing information are also available. The local school district websites describe, in detail, a wide variety of topics, from specialized education programs to before and after school care and school boundary calculators. Don’t underestimate the importance of investigating boundary lines and proposed future changes.
If you have the “new kids” entering school next fall, use this Newcomers' Back to School Checklist to get ready over the summer.
Local School Resources
The best information is probably right outside your new front door. Don’t ignore your local resources; they provide the little details the big resources don’t include.
Local News Outlets
Online newspapers for your new city always report on school happenings. In addition, local news websites such as the Patch network have reporters relaying neighborhood and school events weekly, often with an archive to read previous stories. This is an efficient way to learn about school-specific issues, such as scheduled building improvements or the new bell schedule taking effect for the high school.
Military families should consider visiting prospective schools for a tour and schedule time for questions with the principal. During your meeting, talk about the average number of children in a class, extra-curricular opportunities, curriculum inquiries, and other programs pertaining to your child.
PTAs and PTOs are a wealth of information regarding parental involvement, the need for fundraising, and representation at school board meetings. Some may even have a committee acting as a welcome wagon to new military families, providing useful school and neighborhood information.
Student Liaison Officer
Most military installations provide a School Liaison Officer (SLO) to help navigate the process of school transition for all military children and their specific needs. In addition, the SLO can offer advice for private and public school research and homeschool activities and often has relationships with local principals and teachers.
If you need more information, familiar school ranking go-to's such as GreatSchools and SchoolDigger offer relevant information and family reviews but often don’t showcase the whole picture of the school. Use them sparingly and combined with the previously mentioned information, and you should gather several great choices for a school where your child will thrive!
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