By Mr. Kenneth Fidler (IMCOM)March 26, 2008
YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea - Donna Earl told everyone to write down three things they can't live without every day. It was an exercise in capturing what is important to one's daily ritual.
Those yellow stickies went into a box.
Then they went into the trash.
What was thought to be the beginning of a brainstorming session in good ideas to help military children transition during moves turned into a reality check.
"That is what we do to our kids when we move," Earl said. "We basically take away their friends and extended support system, loss of structure in their lives. They no longer know how it's going to work when they walk into their new school."
That underscored the importance of why she and her Military Child Education Coalition team were here: to give parents tips to help ease school transition issues for military children.
The Military Child Education Coalition is a nonprofit organization that promotes partnerships and provides for networking of military installations and their supporting school districts, according to its mission statement. Its focus is to address transition and other educational issues related to the military-connected child, including active duty, National Guard, and Reserves.
The program was called Parent-to-Parent because the trainers are parents of military children and have experienced many moves and school transitions.
"U.S. Forces Korea is aware of the concerns of both parents and students, and brought trainers from the Military Child Education Coalition to Korea to share information, strategies and high quality resources with parents to assist them in their role as their child's best advocate," said Chad Lucy, coordinator for the USFK Partner in Education program.
A team of three MCEC trainers toured Korea last week to give insight into transition issues and explain resources available to parents and students.
During a seminar March 17 at Yongsan, Earl said military families worldwide have about 800,000 children in kindergarten through 12th grade. The average military child attends seven schools and moves every two or three years.
"When you move them, they can feel like they are behind," said Earl, an Army spouse and "military brat" who has raised two boys who changed school nine times. "We want them to feel like they have their game on so they are not so apprehensive for the next move," she said.
During her presentation, she emphasized that providing children predictability is the key to helping with school transition.
"What our kids want is predictability," Earl said. "And that's not that things are the same. It's knowing what's ahead. So, as parents, the way we provide predictability for our children is to do a lot of research and get involved."
Parents are the best role models and mentors for their children, Earl emphasized. Successful transitions lead to increased problem-solving skills, able and confident learners, resiliency, and optimistic outlook.
"Where they learn to be resilient is from their parents," she said. "They see you exploring, you getting excited, you talking about all the things there are to do in the new locations, you solving those (transition) problems. They basically learn to take the lemons and make lemonade."
She also explained that statistically the common factor among children who are National Merit scholars was eating dinner with their families.
"It's not so much the eating, but it's the discussion they have," Earl said. "It can be at any time to keep communication open. You are talking about that project, you're talking about how they felt about something they just presented in school. That's a really important piece, and statistics show that it is an incredible benefit to your child."
TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL SCHOOL TRANSITION
The enduring theme during the parent-to-parent workshops was to promote predictability and conduct plenty of research on your child's new school when planning for a move. Following are some tips from the MCEC to help prepare for a smooth school move:
"This piece is important, because they need to become part of their community. But the other reason is because many high schools are requiring service-learning to graduate. They may move to a school district that requires volunteer service. Sometimes it's significant, up to 300 hours. Get them used to doing that sort of thing and it's part of their lives so it doesn't feel like a burden when they get older."
Develop strong readers
"Children spend the first three years of school learning to read. From third grade on, they are learning through reading. If they can't read on or above grade level, they're going to fall behind and struggle in other courses. If they are a little bit behind when you move or they miss something, they're going to have a harder time catching up. But if they have that strong reading background, they'll be OK. When they get to middle and high school, they need to learn to read critically. So it's important to make reading a part of your daily life at home."
Be involved in your child's education
"You want to be involved in their education. Children whose parents are involved in their education stay in school longer and achieve more both socially and academically. That's a research fact. Being involved in their education doesn't mean you have to be volunteering at school. Some of you work full time. It can be going over homework at home, sitting at dinner and talking about what's going on at school, knowing what their assignments are."
Pick challenging course loads
"You want your kids to be working at the highest level they can. If you're in an accelerated class, when you move they may be right on track."
To learn more about the MCEC, go to www.militarychild.org