Recently I’ve seen a lot of pictures on my friends’ Facebook pages of the “First Day of School” variety. I have a clear, though somewhat distant, memory of that time of the year with my own kids.
My daughter is married with two kids and a husband who is a captain in the U.S. Army; my son is a captain in the same Army and now engaged to be married next summer. So, it’s been few years since I had to deal with the challenges of a permanent change of station (PCS, in Army lingo) and all that entails when school-aged children are involved.
But I remember that part of our lives very well. It was always a challenge to ensure as stress-free a transition as possible for the sake of our children’s peace of mind. As we moved every two years during most of their school-aged years, sometimes more often, I have a lot of experience in this arena.
Our daughter went to different schools after 1st grade, 2nd, 4th, 5th, halfway through 7th and 10th grade although it should have been 9th grade but she was ‘double promoted’ after 7th grade, skipped 8th-grade year and went straight to high school. I still recall taking her to school that first day of freshman year and, upon returning to our quarters in Vilseck, Germany, crying in my bowl of Rice Krispies as the reality hit me like a two-by-four in the kisser that I had freely given up a year of her quickly-diminishing time remaining at home with us by requesting and getting the double promotion.
But I digress. She then moved after her 11th-grade year and graduated from Heidelberg High Department of Defense School in 2004. So, eight moves in 12 years of school. Our son moved after his 1st, 2nd, 3rd, halfway through 4th, 6th, 7th, 9th, 11th and then graduated from JEB Stuart High School in Annandale, Va., in 2009.
Even as I type this, I am truly in awe of the resiliency of my own kids. I could actually write a book about the logistics, the anxiety, the laughter, the excitement, the sadness and the opportunities involved in the many moves over those many years. I could also fill pages on each of our children that could not begin to truly express the pride and the love I have for those two and the gratitude.
Their father, a career Army man himself, said that the kids could consider they had already served their country just being his kids. By the time our daughter was in college and her brother in his junior year of high school, their dad was on his 6th deployment. They both attended three high schools in four years and both moved for their senior year.
Our kids had learned to adapt to every new teacher(s), school or school district, region of the country or foreign country, made new friends, said good-bye to old ones, begun ballet or tae kwon do, music lessons, all manner of sports and other extra-curricular activities more times than anyone should have to do. Certainly a young child should not have to do that. But we, as military families, ask that of our children on a fairly regular basis.
These days there are a lot of quality resources to help parents and their children navigate the myriad of decisions and concerns associated with frequent moves and deployment. MilitaryOneSource.mil is a great site full of information for the whole family and is free to military and veteran families. Of course, Military Child Education Coalition with its Parent to Parent and Student to Student programs, among others, is also a wonderful resource.
The National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), a component center of the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, has a guide with a comprehensive library of mobile phone apps to benefit military children. Military Families (Near and Far) contains resources for families with preschoolers, Military Kids Connect is an app for all ages, and Sesame Street’s Big Moving Adventure helps prepare kids emotionally for the many moves they can experience. For those of us in the Army, I can recommend from firsthand experience the School Liaison Office, which has much to share within each area of the country and internationally where our Army installations are located.
In my years of raising our children, their father and I have been their biggest supporters and their strongest advocates. That is as it should be, and all parents should know they have the right — and even the responsibility — to speak up on their children’s behalf when there are concerns about the quality of education they are receiving in any school. Parents can also speak out at school district meetings, PTO meetings or in private meetings with a principal or counselor at the school their children attend.
You know your child best and, as the parent, you have their best interests at heart more than their teachers or anyone in the administration. I believe that most teachers and administrators are in the business of education out of their love for children and their belief that each child deserves a strong education for their own improvement and the sake of our country. In those rare cases otherwise, parents definitely need to step in and get their children the help and assistance they need.
Parents and teachers need to show children the connection between a well-educated, informed, critical thinker and a contributing, law-abiding citizen who is well informed and able to contemplate complex issues, articulate their concerns, form opinions and strive for productive change in the society in which they live.
Along with that, parents and educators want a well-rounded student who has the opportunity to participate in extra-curricular activities that allow them to develop other skills which help them enjoy and enhance the world around them and the culture they live in and other cultures they may come in contact with — especially as a military child.
I love our military kids. As my own have grown up and moved on to be productive members of society and are starting to have kids of their own, I am grateful for the experience of parenthood from birth through college graduation. And yes, even beyond. But in the realm of education of our military kids, I am proud and happy to continue to advocate for ‘our’ kids to this day. I encourage parents to join in the work the schools, installations and other concerned citizens are involved in for the benefit of your own children.
Everyone benefits when we stand up and speak out on behalf of our military children. Parents can also be amazing role models for their kids when they are active and proactive on behalf of their and other’s children. Quality education should be a priority for everyone in a community. That includes the one outside the installation’s gates, those on post and our community at large throughout the United States. A society depends on its people and the better educated its citizens are, the better that society will be.
Lynda MacFarland is the wife of the III Corps and Fort Hood commanding general. She is a proud Army wife, mom and advocate for military families.