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By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
One of the advantages of military service is the opportunity to travel and live in different parts of the world. While these opportunities often result in great family experiences, it is important to ensure that the 1.2 million children of military parents can cope with the frequent moves and recurring transitions to new schools.
Having the opportunity to live in different places is often seen as a positive experience for children. Servicemembers may be transferred to another U.S. location or overseas within two to four years of reporting to their latest assignment. But for dependent children, these changes in their lives, friends and schools isn’t always an easy adjustment.
Military Children Face Multiple Challenges When Adjusting to Different Schools
Among the challenges military children face, especially from frequent changes of locations, are school enrollment issues and public school professionals’ misunderstandings about military culture. In addition, these children face difficulties adjusting to new curriculums and standards at different public schools.
For dependent children going to school in other countries or territories, the Defense Department maintains its own schools and a standard educational curriculum. This uniformity makes changing schools abroad somewhat easier for military children.
As children age, their concerns about school relocations change. For military parents, it is important to develop open lines of communication with their children about transitions to new duty stations.
For instance, a six-year-old transferring to a new school will have a different experience than a 16-year-old who makes the same transition as the result of a PCS (permanent change of station). Parental communication should address any anxieties, fears and concerns their children experience, no matter what their age.
Military Children Benefit from Maintaining a Sense of Normality with Schools and Communities
It is important to maintain a sense of a sense of normality when military children move to a new school and community. Military parents can help relieve their children’s stress if they take leave when they are settling into their new community and school. Summertime PCS transfers and community-sponsored activities are opportunities for the newcomers to make friends prior to the start of the school year.
One of the common concerns of preteen and high school students is the frequent loss of established friendships. When dependent children arrive at a new post, parents should encourage them to join youth groups, after-school activities and special interests activities, such as sports or clubs. Joining peer organizations helps to reduce the stress of having to make new friends again.
In a move that involves a location off base, it’s advantageous to encourage children to get to know their peers in other military families living outside the military installation. Those children understand the impact of frequent moves and make forming friendships easier.
When children are apprehensive about starting a new school, whether off base or on, it’s especially important for their servicemember parents to meet with their children’s new guidance counselors and teachers. Informing school administrators and teachers about military culture and children’s concerns about their new schools assist these professionals to help settle the enrolling children in their new school.
Military Child Education Coalition Offers a Helpful Resource for Military Families
One outside resource that can be helpful is the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC). The organization’s mission is “to ensure inclusive, quality educational opportunities for all military-connected children affected by mobility, transition, deployments and family separation.” MCEC offers student-centered and student-led programs at the middle and high school levels to ease school transitions and create a positive environment for military children.
Taking steps to help dependent children successfully transition into their new schools reduces stress on all family members. In addition, successful transitions can bring further satisfaction to servicemembers’ careers.
About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been with the Coast Guard since 1997. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security, contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. He has also received commendations from the Coast Guard. Presently, Jarrod is a supervisor in the Reserve Program and provides leadership to Reserve members who conduct homeland security, search and rescue, and law enforcement missions.