JRTC, Fort Polk School Support Services eases PCS
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Kathleen Kent (right) stands with her daugther Esther (left) at the Catfish Cove playground on the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk. Kent linked up with a school liaison officer after a friend recommended School Support Services to her, prior to transitioning to JRTC and Fort Polk. (Photo Credit: Christy Graham) VIEW ORIGINAL
JRTC, Fort Polk School Support Services eases PCS
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Staff Sgt. Jocelyn Bonvillain, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, (center) picks up her two sons, Ja'Darian (left) and Johnathon (right) at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk Middle School and Teen Center after school. Bonvillain learned about the free MST Center after a School Support Services brief. (Photo Credit: Christy Graham) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT POLK, La. — The Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk works to improve processes that, in turn, improve the quality of life for Soldiers and their Families.

Education is one of those areas in which JRTC and Fort Polk has recently shifted procedures to ensure that dependents’ needs are being met shortly after or just prior to a permanent change of station.

Tiffany Koch, JRTC and Fort Polk school liaison officer, said School Support Services is now able to brief incoming Soldiers earlier during in-processing. In doing so, Families are better able to efficiently establish their kids within a school or schooling option that best fits their child’s interests and needs, she said.

“Fort Polk has adjusted the newcomers brief schedule, so School Support Services and Child and Youth Services brief on day zero. Before you take your permissive leave and go to your unit, your initial brief is with us, so we can ask Families if they’ve enrolled their kids in schools or see if they need child care,” said Koch.

School Support Services helps Families tackle the hurdles that accompany transitions and navigate the enrollment systems, Koch said, whether they are new to JRTC and Fort Polk or heading to a new installation.

For incoming personnel, Koch said School Support Services often helps Families with determining which school district and schools their kids are zoned to attend.

“Six different attendance zones are serviced by Leesville’s 71446 zip code. So, if a Family falls in love with a house on Texas highway, it’s easy to assume that, due to the zip code, their child will go to Leesville High School; but they are actually zoned for Evans High School,” said Koch.

At this point, Koch said, School Support Services offers a level of customization in terms of programming for Families and their kids.

“Using an intake form, we ask about students’ previous academic situations, extracurricular experiences, interests, goals and even what they’d like to see here.

“We use this information to help Families find the right schools, resources and programming for that individual student,” she said.

Before the day zero briefing schedule began, Families would arrive to JRTC and Fort Polk and sometimes find themselves in less-than-ideal situations for their kids, Koch said, but School Support Services can still help in these situations.

“Athletic and academic programming is one of the biggest areas which we help Families,” Koch said.

For example, if a Family enrolls their student at School A and later finds they don’t offer a sport their child has played for years, then a school liaison officer can help find a school with the programming best suited for the child. Once a school is found, School Support Services can aid the Family with the exception to policy paperwork, which may be necessary to transfer schools, she said.

“Once a parent signs enrollment paperwork for where their child is zoned, if they change schools the high school athletic association views it as if that new school has recruited the student, resulting in a recruiting violation, even if the student has never entered that school.”

From there, Koch and her team will speak with the schools and identify a solution, she said.

“Sometimes, they may ask the student to remain in their school, but try out for another school’s team. This doesn’t always work. In that case, we show hardship — such as transportation concerns — as a basis for an exception to policy. However, the school district can only allow so many exceptions to policy each year,” Koch said.

The expansion of Department of Defense Education Activity virtual school options has also alleviated some of the academic programming constraints, she said.

This option expands what a school can offer, such as Arabic or German language classes; and students can take up to two DODEA virtual classes each year, said Koch.

“Some schools aren’t as familiar with DODEA virtual options, but, SLOs can work with these schools to walk them through the steps. That partnership with the schools is part of what our office offers.”

Staff Sgt. Joycelyn Bonvillain, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, and her Family found themselves in a unique situation after arriving and was one of the Families, Koch said, that helped reshape the incoming process for Soldiers.

Bonvillain said she and her three kids (Johnathon, Ja’Darian and Ja’Mariah Bonvillain) stayed in a Leesville hotel for a month before they found a place, which ended up being in the Rosepine area. While in the hotel, she said she wasn’t aware of the School Support Services available to her, so she called the Vernon Parish School Board to determine which schools her kids needed to attend.

“My kids ended up starting school in Leesville. Once we moved, the drive from where we lived was about 25 minutes,” she said.

Bonvillain said she’d signed her kids up to bus home each day after school, unaware that her Rosepine address wasn’t serviced by the bus routes of her kids’ schools.

“There was a road in Leesville with the same name of the road we lived on in Rosepine. I got a call from the bus driver on the first day because my kids refused to get off the bus on a street they didn’t recognize,” Bonvillain said.

Ultimately meeting the principal and her kids back at the school, they pulled up maps and realized the mix-up that had occurred with the road names, and it was determined that her kids were not eligible to ride the bus, she said.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do, or if my chain of command was going to understand and support a single mother who now needed to drop off and pick up her kids every day.”

Bonvillain received her School Support Services brief after this incident, and she said, “I knew they had something for me.”

“Lindsay Sloggett (school liaison officer), told me about Staff Sergeant Bonvillain’s extraordinary situation. This is when we learned that, although we are getting in touch with incoming Families, some of them had already been here for so long that they were finding themselves in extremely unique scenarios in regard to school enrollments. That’s when our brief was moved to day zero. Her story is part of the reason why installation leadership adjusted the process,” Koch said.

One of the resources Bonvillain and her kids learned about was the free Middle School and Teen Center, where Bonvillain said her kids now bus to after school each day.

Kathleen Kent, military Spouse, said she also reached out to School Support Services during her Family’s transition to Fort Polk, as her daughter, Esther, was about to begin kindergarten.

“This wasn’t our first PCS, but it was a new experience in the sense that it was the first time we had to think about schools,” Kent said.

At first glance, Kent said there seemed to be so many schools in the area that she wasn’t sure where her daughter would attend. Luckily, she said, her network of other military Spouses connected her with Koch to get a handle on the schools and programming in the area.

“Schools were one of the things that people scared me about before coming here. I was told that Louisiana schools were terrible. Tiffany (Koch) was able to reassure me that wasn’t the case. My daughter has learned a lot, and she’s really enjoying school. I’m glad that we chose to do kindergarten at North Polk Elementary, because it was a good first-school experience for her,” Kent said.

“We’ve learned that kids leaving Vernon Parish schools rank 86 and 76 in reading and math proficiency, respectively. For most people around the country, their scores are 40, which is average,” Koch said.

Similarly, Montana Mullins, military Spouse, said she was directed to School Support Services through a friend already stationed here.

“This ended up being super beneficial because my husband didn’t attend the brief before our eldest son needed to be enrolled in school. Lindsay (Sloggett) spent 45 minutes on the phone with me, and she couldn’t have been more helpful. Not only did she help me with my teenage son, she also gave me resources for my 3-year-old son, like information about headstart,” Mullins said.

Mullins said that her Family feels like they made the perfect school decisions for her kids.

For Soldiers out-processing the installation, Koch said that transitioning service members are asked to fill out a simple form, so a SLO can later reach out to those Families and ensure they have the proper resources and SLO contacts at their next duty assignment.

Koch said, even if Families are going to a recruiting command, a Fort Polk SLO can provide contacts for that state’s Department of Defense lead, which may be a SLO from another service branch.

Another service SLOs assist with is eliminating any barriers or issues that military-connected students may face at a community school.

“We can provide resources and tips for schools to better understand the unique circumstances and challenges military-connected students face, so the schools are better prepared to support them,” she said.

In the future, School Support Services will have access to a roster of incoming personnel, so they can begin reaching out to Families as they begin their transition to JRTC and Fort Polk, said Koch.

Reaching military Families early in the process eases a huge part of the transition, said Koch, and she hopes School Support Services becomes more widely known.

“The biggest thing I want Families to know is — don’t struggle alone — School Support Services is here to help Families and schools better support our military-connected kids.”

If you have questions regarding School Support Services, call (337) 531-6673.