When we PCS’ed to Southeast Georgia and decided to settle down in nearby Jacksonville, Florida, we made one critical error:
We enrolled our children into the schools our address was zoned for without consulting the Military School Liaison at our new installation.
This was a critical error because we didn’t know anything about the school district or their performance within the district, but our desire to have our children’s lives settle back down and get back to normal as soon as possible was the driving force behind our error. At the point of enrollment, they had become restless – they wanted to make friends, join sports teams and clubs, and they would constantly complain about being bored all day. I felt that by enrolling them as quickly as possible that I was doing the best thing for them so that they could have a sense of purpose back, make friends, and join all the teams and clubs their hearts desired.
Even though my intentions were good, I should have reached out to make sure I was putting my children in the best place possible for their needs.
While my eldest is lucky enough to go to a high school with a focus on aviation with military sciences classes and ROTC, his zoned school leaves much to be desired and also lacks the funding for the aviation program to start in the 9th grade. His ultimate goal is to be a pilot someday, so even though he volunteers with the Civil Air Patrol, he may have been better served in another high school with an aviation program. I also had to push to get him into the Honors Program at his school, and even dug out his standardized test scores to show his guidance counselor that he did truly need more challenging classes in his academic life.
With our younger son, I had reservations about putting him into any school because he is a highly functioning Autistic child. At this time, he does not have a 504 Plan or an Individualized Education Plan, though it may be something that we will be initiating in the coming weeks. At his previous school, neither was needed because he attended a small Catholic school and his teachers were always willing to work with us to give him exactly what he needed. At the time of enrollment, I asked his guidance counselor that made his schedule if we could use our military orders to exercise school choice this school year, and she said yes. Unfortunately, after further digging, we discovered that she was either untruthful with us or simply didn’t know how school choice worked for military dependents and told us what we wanted to hear. In Florida, military dependents can exercise school choice mid-year if they are moving into the area on orders and the school that they desire has room. Sadly, our son not only dislikes his new school, but he is now only able to move to a Florida charter school or private school that has room, so our school options have been nearly cut in half – and we may have been able to avoid this heartache if we had simply used the Military School Liaison.
Finally, our youngest school-aged child is in Kindergarten and she has also struggled to adapt to her new school, though I’m not sure that exercising school choice would have helped much in her case. She, like many other military children moving for the first time, misses her old routine, her old teacher and friends, and is struggling to adapt to all new things (literally) during the school day. As a family, we have been stepping up to support her, as her school is teaching at a different pace than her old school, and so in some subjects she’s getting a review and in others, we’re doing our best to help her keep up with her peers.
The number one thing that this has taught me moving on orders with school aged children is that the school liaison has one of the most important jobs when it comes to supporting military families: helping our children find the best schools to support their needs. On average, our children will spend well over 1,000 hours at school each school year, and in my opinion, that is far too long for our children to be unhappy or feeling unsupported while at school. The school liaison is there for us, to make sure that we’re aware of all our kids’ options going into our new duty stations so that their new adventure can be a positive one. Thankfully, we still have options for our son this school year, and we’re more prepared for the next PCS.