As the summer winds into fall, administrators, teachers and students across the country prepare to go back to school. For many, this is a simple annual routine. But for military-connected children, whose parents often experience order changes that require them to attend new schools in different cities, states or countries, going back to school is anything but easy.
While much of the preparation work that goes into getting a blue star child ready for the school year is placed on parents, there are some ways that academic institutions both domestic and abroad, can help ease the burden of transition for these students.
Knowledge is key
One of the best ways to help military students, new or returning, is to make sure that teachers and support staff know who among their students are military-connected. This is especially important in schools that are perhaps not located on base.
There are 1.2 million military-connected students currently, and more than 80 percent of them attend public schools in the United States.
There are many resources for educators on best practices for how to create a welcoming learning environment for military children. In particular, the Lexington Institute did a comprehensive study, in partnership with the Military Families for High Standards coalition, that is meant to help schools ensure cohesive learning experiences and the later-in-life success of military students in grades K to 12, per the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) signed into law in 2015.
Utilize military student resources
The Military Student Identifier (MSI), a provision under the new ESSA education law is one of the most important tools that schools can use when approaching service connected students. The data collected through it can be used to determine program strengths and weaknesses, show areas where schools may need additional resources, and identify students in need of specific academic assistance. MSI data has the added bonus of helping schools’ fine-tune their programs to respond to the needs of children.
According to the findings of the Lexington report, personalized learning approaches, which can be bolstered by strategic small-group and one-on-one teaching, may be one of the most effective methods in a classroom with one or a number of military children.
Teachers with training and support in this approach have proved very effective in districts that have undertaken this effort. The data collected by the MSI can help to ensure that children, who may move frequently, experience a seamless educational experience no matter where they are enrolled.
Creating a sense of community can make all the difference
One of the best ways to mitigate the difficulty that military children may find in moving to a new place is to create a sense of belonging both in and out of the classroom. Some schools, like those in Virginia Beach, have employed counselors who are dedicated to helping military families navigate the complexities of enrollment and support students throughout their transition into a new school.
Having the MSI data is expected to help schools more quickly identify these children and their needs. Military Times previously reported that the “Columbia County School District and Fort Gordon, Georgia have developed strategies to address the issue of transitioning military students, ranging from improving the timely transfer of student records to providing information on graduation requirements.”
However your district has chosen to help military students acclimate to life both in and out of a new school, there’s always more that can be done. Please visit Military Families for High Standards to find out more about the best ways to encourage academic success for blue star children and for a transition guide to help parents.