“We got orders,” my friend mumbled as she fought back tears. “We’re going to Japan.”
I felt her pain. I was in her shoes seven years ago when my husband announced we were moving to Japan, and I remember that overwhelming fear and apprehension, that initial list of concerns about living overseas.
But I wasn’t worried about DoD schools. I didn’t have school-aged children. My friend has three. And one of her primary concerns about her upcoming PCS is her children’s education.
According to Marilee Fitzgerald, director of Department of Defense Educational Activity (DoDEA), nearly 87,000 students attend DoD schools in 12 different countries, two territories and seven states. That’s in addition to the 1.2 million children who will be joining their peers in U.S. public school systems. On average, these students will attend six to nine schools by the time they graduate.
That’s a lot of kids going in and out of a lot of schools, a lot of transcripts being transferred, and a lot of parents worrying that their children will fail to meet the academic requirements of the new schools they’re entering because of the old schools they’ve left.
Case in point is my friend Tricia, another MilSpouse I met while our husbands were stationed in Japan. Her three sons attended the local DoD school for the year her family spent overseas, and although she doesn’t regret enrolling her children there, she is thankful they attended the school for only one year before returning to the States.
“My opinion is that the curriculum was extremely easy,” she explained. “My middle child literally repeated first grade while in second. He even used the same textbooks. My oldest completed the math curriculum by October and spent the rest of the year writing stories on the computer and playing internet chess. He was in the gifted class!”
Several years have passed, and she’s still seeing the effects of that year.
“Unfortunately, the loss of the year of instruction followed the boys and continues to follow them,” she said. Her middle son struggles with a learning disability in writing that she was told is directly related to the loss of a year of instruction. “My oldest son never regained his drive for excellence. He experienced a year of fun and it took until his first semester senior year for him to push himself again.”
Stories like these concern me, especially because my husband could get orders overseas. I have no intention of homeschooling my children, so if we PCS’ed overseas, my only option would probably be DoD schools.
Fortunately, it sounds like things are changing for the better. Starting this year, DoDEA is joining 46 states in adopting the Common Core educational standards, which identify what students should know by grade level and by content area.
“For the first time, our nation has come together to decide what it is their children must know and learn by the time they leave school,” Fitzgerald explained in a bloggers’ roundtable about new DoDEA initiatives. “And so when children move from classroom to classroom, I think the academic disruption will be minimized as a result of these Common Core Standards.”
DoDEA has also increased the graduation requirements for math, added course offerings in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and continued their foreign language program that starts in kindergarten.
After talking to my Japan-bound friend and hearing stories like Tricia’s and other friends who have struggled through the transitions within their children’s educational careers, I’m hoping these new initiatives will accomplish the desired results and that our military children will one day face fewer challenges as they jump from their six to nine schools.
I think we’d all agree with Fitzgerald when she said, “I like to look at our children as ambassadors of the United States military's core values: honor, courage, selfless sacrifice, loyalty, respect, integrity and excellence.” And that’s why they deserve the best possible education we can give them.
What kinds of experiences have you had with DoD schools? What challenges have you faced with your children’s educational paths?