Supporting Military Kids Through a PCS Move to a New School
Written by Jeanine Rickman
For military families, making a move that includes starting over is a regular occurrence. In fact, it’s so frequent that military children face an average 6-9 transfers before even reaching high school graduation. With permanent change of station (PCS) moves often disrupting their academic journey in the middle of the school year, these resilient kids often become all too familiar with the “new to school feeling.”
As a parent who understands the apprehension my three children have experienced when faced with starting at a new school, we have made it a priority to involve them actively in the transition process. We discuss with them how many positive changes they can look forward to after each military move. Our children all love art, so finding new schools that have an art program and similar values makes transitions easier.
Here are some additional tips that may help your military kids overcome a PCS move to a new school.
Get in Touch with Your School Liaison Officer
Contacting your local School Liaison Officer is a great place to start, and they can be contacted before a PCS. The Department of Defense School Liaison Program (SLO) has partnered with Military OneSource to help military families learn about local school enrollment options and connect with their schools. They can also assist with many types of referrals and provide support for grades k-12, including:
- Special education assistance
- Exceptional Family Members Program (EFMP) referrals
- Tutor referrals
- Youth sponsorship referrals
- Deployment support
- Parent workshops
- College and career readiness
Focus on Comfort and Confidence
In our military family, we prioritize providing each other with comfort and fostering confidence as we make each transition. These family goals ease the stress that comes with big life changes accompanying military moves. Here are a few ways we incorporate comfort and confidence into a new school routine:
Schools are so different from one another, so it can be difficult to get a feel for each school just based on their website and reviews. Attending a school tour is a fantastic way to really get to know the school your child will be attending.
It is also a good way to ease the child into transitioning to a new school. This way, you and your child know where important buildings are, such as the classroom and cafeteria BEFORE the first day. You can also use this opportunity to familiarize yourself with the school’s routine. You will probably get to meet some of the school staff, such as the principal and teachers, which can help ease some of the stress of having too many new experiences when the children start school.
When we made our big move, we knew we could even select a school other than our neighborhood school, so we decided to tour several ones. After the school tours, we were better able to choose one that fit our child’s needs best. We found schools that prioritized art as a part of the curriculum and had foreign language classes starting in elementary school, which were huge bonuses for our military kids.
We always strive to start a new school year positively! When we are excited about a new experience or transition, we tend to be more confident in the way we handle the situation. We make a conscious effort to show our children that school is an exciting place. Allowing our children to choose their outfits boosts confidence. We let them pick out a new outfit, knowing they always need new clothes anyway. We also let them get a few new school supplies, even if they are from the dollar store.
If your child is starting a new school at the beginning of the academic year, there are many resources that help military families acquire school supplies. We love that the Back-to-School Brigade® through Operation Homefront thoughtfully matches new backpacks and supplies with school-age children nationwide. School supplies don’t always make the cut in a cross-country PCS move, so this is especially helpful.
During their transition to a new school and schedule, we make an effort to provide small comforts to help our military kids feel at home. This includes:
- Placing little notes in their backpack or lunchboxes
- A favorite special snack
- Personalizing their backpacks with something other than their name
- Providing them with something to fidget with if they are feeling nervous (we ask the teacher for their recommendations)
These gestures serve as reminders that they are loved and supported, even when they are away from home.
Back to School Heroes
New places and new schools are challenging! Thankfully, the Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) helps military families navigate transitions like these. By providing resources and programs that promote resilience, the ASYMCA assists military kids and their families in various ways.
One of the ASYMCA’s most valuable youth programs is Operation Hero, which is specifically designed to empower military children, foster their confidence, and encourage resilience. The best part is that the program offers a unique blend of learning and fun with their peers.
We love that Operation Hero is a 10-week afterschool program that is available nationwide at many ASYMCA branch locations. Geared toward military kids in grades 2-8, the program equips them with essential skills to cope and adapt to the unique challenges of military life, such as frequent PCS relocations and separations during deployments. These skills are especially helpful when transitioning to a new school environment.
Support a Smooth Transition
The ASYMCA understands the importance of supporting military families in various ways, including addressing their emotional needs. They help military children overcome the challenges they face during transitions and build a strong foundation for their emotional well-being. Programs like Operation Hero, which teach coping techniques and resilience for a PCS and moving to a new school, are essential for helping military children thrive.
By contributing to ASYMCA programs, you are making a lasting impact on future generations of military kids. Your support ensures that these programs continue to equip them with essential skills that will benefit them throughout their lives.