Every school runs to its own rhythm, following state or local guidelines for education. Understanding how these puzzle pieces fit together is crucial for success. New schools mean relearning old tricks and building new networks.
Following a few key best practices can help your military family be successful as you change schools, at any age and stage.
1. Get to Know the SLO
Every family's first point of contact when PCSing with school-aged kids should be the School Liaison Officer (SLO) at their receiving duty station. SLOs serve as a clearinghouse of sorts, with access to a resource library specific to the local school districts.
When you contact the SLO, you'll get a better understanding of which schools are going to be closest to your new home. They might also put you in contact with people you need to know at the school. Many SLOs can also assist with paperwork and making sure your child's transition is smooth.
However, it's important to know their limits. While SLOs can help facilitate paperwork, including transferring Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), they cannot personally advocate for your child's education plan. They serve more as a bridge between the school and military families, to make changes easier for military kids and provide understanding to civilian communities.
2. Contact the School Staff
Before you've even settled on a school or district, it's important to reach out to the school's administrative team. This includes the principal, vice principals and special education coordinator (if your child has an IEP).
During your initial contact, treat it like an interview or home search. You wouldn't settle on a job or neighborhood without getting all the details. Why should your school search be any different?
Ask questions about school climate, resources and extracurricular activities. Find out if they have a strong military child support system already in place.
Once you've picked a school, keep the conversation going! Continue to reach out and update school staff on any changes in your timeline that might impact the school. Consider sending over any educational plans in advance and starting negotiations to make those transitions smoother. You could also ask for contact information for grade-level or department-level lead teachers. Getting to know these professionals can help with transferring course credits and feeling more settled in the new school year.
3. Connect on Social Media
Everyone is online these days, including schools. Almost every school in America has profiles on multiple social media platforms, with the most popular being Facebook and Twitter. Follow your child's new school on social media.
Watch what the school and/or teachers are posting. Doing this type of reconnaissance work can help you understand the school's climate and peek behind the scenes.
Plus, you won't be in the dark as much when it comes to cool events and annual traditions. For example, some schools host galas or socials throughout the year. Knowing about these events in advance can help you budget and plan your calendar.
4. Consider Joining the PTA
Just like schools, not every Parent-Teacher Association is created equal. Some are incredibly active and very visible. Others are almost nonexistent. Peeking at the social media account for the school and the local PTA can give you insights.
One major reason to join the PTA is the parent/family directory. This can help you to get in touch with your child's new friends, as long as that family is also in the PTA. In very active schools, almost every family seems to join this organization.
The PTA is also a driving force for school changes, especially on the community level. Many parent groups give funding to military child support programs and other student social groups. If your school lacks such infrastructure, being active in the PTA is a great way to lead that conversation.
5. Get to Know the Teachers
As your child is assigned teachers, reach out to them individually. Let them know a little bit about your child and your family. Explain any academic history that is relevant, like preferred seating needs or social supports that aren't included elsewhere.
Share your contact information with the teacher, too. Be clear that you welcome communication about your child's academic and social progress -- good or otherwise.
When school begins, reach out again and express your good wishes for a positive school year. Reiterate your support and desire to be involved in the classroom. Offer assistance in whatever way makes sense for your family.
Building a positive, open relationship from the outset can pay off in major ways if, or when, there are hurdles.
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