Do not take your kids out of school. No matter what the demands of your most recent move or deployment schedule or the current holiday period might be, the view from top administrators is that military kids belong in school.
Marilee Fitzgerald, director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, strongly believes that one thing parents need to do in order to make a difference in their military child’s education is to stress the importance of attendance.
“If kindergarten children do not go to school regularly, the research says they will gain roughly 14 percent fewer literacy skills,” Fitzgerald said recently at the AUSA conference in Washington, D.C. “Do not take them out of school.”
Not surprisingly, research indicates that student attendance is an important factor in achievement. In other words, the higher the attendance, the higher the academic success. However, for military families, perfect attendance isn’t always possible.
For some military families, the only way to squeeze in family time in between deployments and other military-related separations is to allow the kids to skip a few days of school. Navy spouse Crystal Bubulka recently pulled her second-grader out of school to fly cross-country to visit her husband, who is a geographic bachelor.
“I asked for homework that we would miss, but the teacher said don't worry about it. She said she couldn't think of a better excuse to skip school. She is so supportive of us as a military family.”
For other families, PCS moves prevent school attendance. At the end of the summer, Navy spouse Tiffany Isaacson had no choice but to send her two sons to school a week after the first day because of the timing of her move.
“As parents, no one wants their children to miss out on any part of their education. However, in military life, it’s sometimes inevitable.”
Other military families take their children out of school in order to take advantage of certain cultural experiences that an overseas tour provides. One military spouse stationed overseas is frustrated by the strict attendance policies enforced by the DoD school her children are attending. She asked to remain nameless since their community is so small.
“We are living in Europe for only a short period of time, and we can't take the kids out of school to expose them to the culture and history of this place?” she said. “It's not always possible, but we have been able to get some absences excused by the school here for travel. We feel it is justified.”
Like Navy wife Christine Williamson, many military spouses try to find a balance between family life and their children’s education. She used to pull her children out of school about once a year when they were younger, more so when her family was traveling during their overseas tour. “As a military mom, it's important to spend the time when you can, and a day here and there is fine.”
However, now that her children are in high school, she is less inclined to allow them to take days off. “It is very hard to miss school as you get in the higher grades. They move faster, have more students and of course expect the students to find out the missing work and make it up on their own.”
Williamson is also a teacher, so she sees the other side of student absenteeism and the difficulties students face when they miss school.
“As a teacher, I see a huge gap in students’ education,” she said. “When you miss the week when the teacher explains how to tell time, you are pretty much in trouble, even at the younger ages. It is also hard on the kids socially and in their routines, which gives many children security and therefore confidence.”
This security is what Fitzgerald is arguing for. “A little stability goes a long way in building resiliency.”
Stability and resiliency is the goal, but it clearly requires the right balance.
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