The following article is an opinion piece and reflects the views of only the author and not those of AllOnGeorgia.com
Kiera Tyler, M.Ed, is a teacher at Albritton Middle School at Fort Bragg, an Army spouse and a member of the national advocacy group Military Families for High Standards.
U.S. service members who are moving to a military facility in Georgia now have two powerful additional resources to help them navigate the shoals of transitioning their children to new schools in the state.
One resource provides a macro picture of how select states, many with sizeable military populations, are addressing education quality issues in their public schools, while the other provides parents with insights on what specific types of programs work best for military-connected students as they transition into a new school district.
Taken together, the two resources can help alleviate stressors associated with the anxious and tumultuous period of receiving orders to pack up and move. Transitioning to a new state can be especially nerve-racking for parents concerned about maintaining a consistently rigorous education for their children.
For service members heading into Georgia with the family in tow, they are in good company. The state has one of the largest concentrations of active duty military, with approximately 63,448 personnel stationed in the state, according to the military’s latest demographic data from 2017. Only California, Texas, North Carolina and Virginia have more. As a result, Georgia plays host to many military dependents – 81,766 in all –many of whom are school age children.
The first resource is an independent analysis called “Promise to Practice” that assesses how states are addressing underperforming schools. Given that most military connected students attend public schools, this guide is useful for quickly allowing service member parents to get up to speed on how serious any given state is about fixing schools that might be ailing.
For example, a parent moving to one of the several military installations in Georgia learns that the report gave the state a “strong” rating in three of eight categories that were studied and a “weak” rating in one category. The panel of national experts who compiled the report are concerned that the state is taking too limited a role in leading or supporting school improvement efforts. But overall, the report praised Georgia education officials for their strong vision for school improvement.
The other guide, by the Lexington Institute in conjunction with the Collaborative for Student Success, identifies the types of programs that have a proven track record of helping address the needs of military-connected kids. As parents assess local schools, they should factor in the findings and push schools and districts to adopt these practices with military students in mind.
One of the best practices cited in the report – that schools should have an efficient intake and identification system for identifying military children — seems obvious but can be a major challenge. It is essential that schools get this right, and that parents identify their child as military-connected, because so much hangs on whether kids are accurately identified.
Parents should push teachers to focus on a student’s most basic needs by promoting a sense of belonging. And the key to nurturing that bond between student and classroom is to identify the military kids early in the school year, so that educators can provide personalized support, easing their transitions academically.
As a teacher at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, I work to ensure that every student in the class knows everyone else’s name. It seems like a small thing, but it has outsized impact. As Dale Carnegie said, “A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” It is perhaps even more so for young minds. I have witnessed a new student’s face light up when they hear another student speak with them using their name. They instantly feel they belong. They relax. They gain confidence. All of which provides the strong foundation for academic success.
Relocating to Georgia, or any state for that matter, doesn’t need to be so fraught, if parents make use of powerful resources and work together with educators to ease the anxiety of transitions.