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School Daze: Starting off Right at a New School

When military families are on their house hunting trips they may not realize they have a choice as to which school they place their children. There are public school boards, Catholic school boards, private schools, and the option of home schooling. For some families selection is limited, for others in urban centres the choices can be overwhelming. “The most important thing to remember is that you are your child’s advocate in any school. You are their voice, and you have the right to speak for your child. You have to let the school know what is unique about your lifestyle,” said Kim Whidden-Dixon, Program Manager of Child and Youth Services with 14 Wing MFRC for the past 14 years. Parents should make an effort to schedule time to tour schools and interview principals while on their HHT. “Make a checklist of what is important to your military family, include any special needs and considerations. Keep in mind, if you choose not to place your child in the school your residence dictates you may have to provide transportation. Do not be afraid to ask questions.”

When visiting the school look for signs it’s a happy and welcoming environment. Ask for a tour and make note of the walls in the classrooms and the hallways. “Is there a parent counsel or parent teacher association bulletin board? Parents are important in the success of a school. They raise money, they support the teachers, and they bring fresh ideas to the school. If you can become involved you have yet another chance to advocate for your child and the quality of their education. Your military family may not be with the school for a long time. You may only be there for two years, but you can have an impact on the quality of the experience your child has in that school,” said Whidden-Dixon. Again, ask questions. Military children are resilient, but that doesn’t replace the impact an active parent has in a school. “Find out which communication systems are used in the school. How and when will you hear from educators is important. Multimedia is important. You want to be plugged into the school via email, or electronic newsletters, student portals. Look for a well rounded school with a good academic standing, usually schools are provincially rated. Look for sports and the arts, like music.”

Curriculum is a huge consideration for military children moving from one province to another. Some provinces are ahead and others are behind. There is rarely standardization. “When advising parents I recommend they have a general knowledge of what curriculum their child just learned so that the child is not overly challenged, or overly bored at their new school,” said Whidden-Dixon. At this point when meeting with the principal or teacher provide a previous report card. “When you are posted out early and miss the last days of school, the school may tell you they will mail you the final report card. If at all possible refuse that option and ask to pick it up early. Again, you are your child’s advocate. The report card goes with all of the other important records you bring with you in the car like the family medical and dental records.”

Be a proactive parent and make sure your unique military child is given the respect and consideration they deserve. “Do not apologize for taking care of your kids. Is this the third elementary school your child has attended? Perhaps they are about to be thrown into a deployment cycle, the teachers and the principal need to be made aware. Maybe there is a restricted posting happening, and your military member will only be home on the weekends. The school needs to know. Ask to meet with principals not front desk staff. Advocate for your child and you will see your best results.”

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Vicki L Morrison

Thanks to her husband's military career Vicki reinvented herself as a writer so she could work from home, while taking care of their three kids. A former MFRC executive director Vicki is a passionate advocate for military families who loves telling their stories.

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