By: Lizann Lightfoot
PCS season – when service members receive permanent change of station orders – is right around the corner, which means that military-connected children across the country are preparing to move and enroll in a new school. If you’re a parent or caregiver of a military-connected child, you’ve likely witnessed how challenging it can be for your child to start over and make new friends … again. However, there are steps you can take to ensure your child’s transition to a new school goes as smoothly as possible.
- Begin researching early. You can begin learning about a new duty station before your service member has official orders. School options will be directly related to the area where the student will live, so it’s important to research schools and housing options at the same time. Use websites that provide school “grades” to get a general overview of local options, but do not rely solely on these reports. Try reaching out to local base spouse groups or neighborhood groups for more detailed information and feedback. You can also call potential schools and speak with the principal or administrator to see if the school is a good fit for your child. Be sure to ask about start and end dates for the school year, the enrollment process, and any requirements for transferring credits.
- Contact a School Liaison officer. An SLO (School Liaison Officer) is a great resource for military families. Contact the SLO located at your current installation to obtain your child’s essential documents. Then reach out to the SLO at your new installation to learn about local school options and get more information about the transfer process. You can learn more about SLOs and find SLOs in your community by visiting the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA).
- Know your child’s rights. The Interstate Compact protects the rights of military children moving to new school districts. It details their ability to enroll in the appropriate grade, continue advanced courses they were previously taking, and complete exams or graduate on time. The Compact also guarantees that students with special needs can continue to receive necessary treatment and services.
During the move:
- Hand-carry essential paperwork. Gather all the paperwork you will need to register your child at their new school. Do not pack these documents in moving boxes, as they may be lost in the move. Be sure to include vaccination records, recent physicals, birth certificates, income verification (service member’s LES), and the school’s application. You should also hand-carry your child’s education binder discussed below. Once you arrive at your new location, save a copy of your lease, mortgage, or a utility bill to show proof of residency.
- Put together an education binder. This should include, at a minimum, your child’s report cards, any IEP or 504 plan paperwork, input from the classroom teacher, standardized test results, gifted and talented designation, and samples of recent work. You can also include feedback from coaches or elective class teachers, notes from parent/teacher conferences, and a list of any awards received. Saving all this information in one place will make it easier to give new teachers and administration a quick overview of your child’s needs and abilities.
- Discuss the school with your child. Take the time to listen to their concerns and discuss how you can address those challenges together. Try to maintain a positive attitude towards the move and point out new opportunities and experiences that the move may bring. Research sports teams, extracurriculars, and clubs that may interest your child and help them make new friends. Set up a tour so they can visit their new school before their first day and talk through their daily routines.
- Follow up with teacher conferences. You don’t need to wait until the next scheduled parent/teacher conference to meet with your child’s teacher. Set up a parent/teacher meeting within the first few weeks of your child’s arrival. This is a good time to discuss any details of military life (moving, deployment, previous duty stations) that may be unfamiliar to the teacher, and to verify your child’s placement levels and enrollment in special programs. If you have an education binder for your child, you can discuss any curriculum gaps your child has experienced, and how to best close these gaps.
Starting at a new school is a challenge for military-connected children at any age, but early planning and communication can help ease the transition and set your child up for success.
Lizann Lightfoot is a Marine Corps wife, mom of five, and author. She publishes resources and encouragement for military families on her blog. Alongside her husband, she has completed 7 deployments and 6 PCS moves (including one assignment overseas). When she isn’t writing, she enjoys exploring new areas and, of course, chocolate.