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Navigating School Moves

MOVING IS STRESSFUL for parents, but movingin general and facing a new
school in particular is also stressful for children. They leave their comfort zone of established routines and the security of friends and peer networks and enter the unknown. Preschool children may fear being abandoned; elementary school-aged children experience disruption in continuity; teens worry about fitting in; and high school juniors and seniors may face curricula which differ vastly from their former school, sometimes to the point of threatening timely graduation. Looking ahead and having a plan will make a school move much easier for both parents and children.

Active-duty military families are more likely to move than National Guard and Reserve families, and will move six to nine times during their children’s school years. Parents who are, out of necessity, dealing with their own stresses also need to be sensitive to their children during a move. They can do a lot to demystify the move and alleviate their children’s stress. The key is starting early, letting their children know what to expect and what the parent will do to help them adjust. Each move may require a “refresher course.”

Pre-Move Research
Several months before the move, parents can begin to research schools in the community and include the family in discussions. The Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) has SchoolQuest™, a great resource featuring School Finder to help with this process. Parents and children can visit the district and school websites to learn about academic credentials and programs, as well as available athletic teams and clubs. In addition, a school’s website will outline schedules and calendars; these are not standardized from state to state, nor are they standardized within a state. Assuming your children’s new school schedule is similar to their current school schedule can result in their enrollment being days and even weeks later than the official start date of the district. Classes in which they wish to enroll may be full, friendships are already solidifying, and athletic teams may have a cut-off date for students wishing to “make the team.”

Hand carrying school records is vital in a school move. These records may include a photocopy of a cumulative folder, withdrawal paperwork, report cards, information on textbooks used, and a copy of the student’s health record. Notify the current school’s registrar or counselor several weeks prior to the move to allow time for him or her to copy these documents for you. Be certain to also obtain documentation related to any special programs your child is enrolled in, whether enrichment/gifted/accelerated, special education, or 504 services. If you wait for the receiving school to send a formal request for records to the sending school, then the child could experience a lapse in services, which could be particularly disruptive for children with special needs and 504 services.

Arrive and Engage
When the family arrives at the new community, a trip to the school campus can give everyone an idea of what to expect. Request a tour and a map so your children can familiarize themselves with the facility. Knowing where the cafeteria, auditorium, rest rooms, and the counselor’s office are can go a long way toward helping them settle into a new routine.

Parents can also read and discuss the school’s conduct and dress codes with their children. Most schools have a written student code of conduct that details what is acceptable behavior for students. A campus may add regulations in addition to those established by the district, and knowing rules and regulations beforehand can help students feel comfortable as they enter a new school.

Research has shown that connections to schools are important to academic success.

Meeting your child’s principal, counselor, and teachers will go far to establish a personal connection. Volunteering on your child’s campus or joining a parent organization such as PTA or Band Boosters can help you make contacts at the school while making you and your child more comfortable in new surroundings.

Fitting in is vitally important to children. School websites picture students in the new community engaging in school activities; showing groups such as choir students performing or athletic teams competing. Once you have arrived, look around the community to see what clothing, shoes, hairstyles, and accessories local kids are wearing. A few purchases may be all it takes to ease your child into life in a new community.
Many organizations help students transition to new schools. The Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) is devoted to helping schools and military installations deliver accurate, timely information to meet transitioning parent and student needs. MCEC is the only non-profit organization whose primary mission is ensuring quality educational opportunities for all military-connected children affected by mobility, family separation, and transition. The MCEC conducts research, professional institutes and conferences, develops resources, programs and services for anyone concerned about the well-being of military and veteran-connected children. We serve the children of those who serve us all. Visit the MCEC website at www.MilitaryChild.org for information on a variety of topics to help children in all aspects of military life.

Additional MCEC Resources:

SchoolQuest.org – Secure resource information to help families make decisions on schools as they relocate
• checklist for transferring students
• helpful information for children during separation and deployment
• state-by state details on school requirements and resources for all fifty states, DoDEA, and Washington, D.C.