In an effort to improve schools, education reformers have generally focused their attention on the learning needs of English language learners, minority students, and students with disabilities. Rarely, though, do we hear about students from military families who experience significant learning challenges that are often overlooked.
While children from military families have a variety of opportunities available to them that traditional students don’t—traveling abroad, meeting new people, and learning how to be adaptive at an early age—they also face significant challenges. These include gaps in school attendance and learning, separation from family members who are deployed (often in combat zones), and feelings of isolation.
If your school doesn’t have a large population of military students, you may not need to organize a school-wide military-focused program, but you may benefit from adopting a few of these strategies from Ron Astor, Linda Jacobson and Rami Benbenishty’s book, The School Administrator’s Guide for Supporting Students from Military Families.
The sooner you can assess your incoming student’s skills and compare them to the standards of your state or district, the quicker you can accommodate his or her needs. While you may find answers to these questions in the student’s records, very often there is a lag from when the previous school sends these records and you receive them. Having an assessment set up in advance will alleviate this gap and lessen the guesswork.
Like I mentioned above, student records don’t always arrive in a timely way. Call the previous school and see if you can expedite the process so that the student’s records don’t fall between the cracks. These records may contain valuable information about the student’s need for additional support and service.
Create a Welcoming Team
I have a feeling that most of us will never forget the first time we walked into the cafeteria on the first day of school. This is an uncomfortable feeling for anyone, but it can be especially tough on military students—especially those who have transferred mid-year and don’t know anyone in their school, let alone the county or state.
To alleviate this stress, start a Welcoming Steering Committee to greet new students, introduce them to the faculty and staff, give them a tour of the building, and pair them up with a “buddy.”
Have an Ambassador System in Place
Take a moment to think about your student leaders. Who are the friendliest, most responsible and helpful students that come to mind?
Ask these students to help accommodate the needs of your military students. If you can, connect incoming students with a peer by phone or email before the transfer. You may also want to meet with these students periodically to receive updates about the incoming student’s progress.
Give New Students a Map
Most of us give students a schedule with room numbers, but less often do we supply them with a map of the campus. This is especially important if you have a large campus.
If you’ve ever moved across the country, you know how chaotic it can be in the first couple of weeks. Things go missing, the house is a mess, and you find yourself living out of boxes. Because of this, your military students may not have had time to purchase school supplies—and chances are that your teachers require different materials than those at the student’s last school.
If possible, have starter kits with paper, pens, pencils, erasers, folders, etc., so there are no delays for students in doing their assignments.
Meeting your School Liaison Officer (SLO)
SLOs work for the four branches of the military to help students in military families be academically successful. They also work with local civilian school districts to address any education-related problems or barriers that might keep students from having a positive experience.
Although these officers are more often based on military instillations, they are also housed as a part of the local school district to facilitate communication and cooperation with school officials and staff. Consider inviting them to speak to military parents at your school or to attend school events so families will recognize that they are available to help.
While some military students will be behind academically, others may have already mastered the skills being taught at their grade level. These students may need additional opportunities for enrichment and more challenging material. Consider allowing these students to go into the next grade for instruction in the areas where they are advanced.
Photo credit: USAG-Humphreys / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)