A permanent change of station, or PCS, can be difficult for any military Family member, but there is assistance available to help school-age children adapt and grow through the challenge.
Michael Erickson, Mahaffey Middle School counselor, has taken courses through Military Child Education Coalition to help understand the mindset of elementary, middle and high school-age military children. The most challenging circumstances they face depends on which age group they fall into, when they have to PCS and the tools they have to get through such changes, he said.
From less assured young children to high schoolers readying for college, there are resources that can help students and parents make the transition smooth.
“They try to be brave and handle it themselves, but inevitably something will pop up where they do need some help from the counselor to navigate things at their new school,” Erickson said.
Elementary school students
For children in elementary school, one of the most important things parents should do is know the importance of informing them about planned moves, said Shelly Stine, Andre Lucas Elementary School counselor.
“Please let your children know before they find out from somebody else,” Stine said. “I also really encourage Families to be positive about it. I know a lot of Families, when they find out they have to leave this area, are very upset. I try to tell parents not to talk negativity in front of their children because it’s going to be harder for them.”
Instead, she said, focus on the positives.
If the children enjoy going to the Nashville Zoo, find a zoo near the new installation and make plans to visit. Visit favorite restaurants, friends and places before moving and make sure they know they have memories to make at the next installation, Stine said.
“Have the children take pictures and make a scrapbook or something as a memory of them being here, because it definitely is very difficult once you move away and have to adjust to a new place,” she said.
If the child will miss relatives nearby, find other Family members that might be close to the new location and talk about those waiting adventures. Get a map and show the child a visual of the new place. Find landmarks, attractions and mark them.
Stine said frequent moves are one thing military children do not like because they feel like they are losing their friends. To help children feel connected despite the move, she encourages them to collect their friend’s email addresses and phone numbers before heading to their new home.
Children should be involved in the move, she said, suggesting finding something that is special to the children, “whether it’s a stuffed animal or a toy or a book, if they can take it with them personally, do that. Because one of the things I hear quite often and I remember from my own childhood is when movers lost items.”
Middle school students
Moves can be challenging for some middle school students because of their age and circumstances they face, Erickson said.
“It’s an awkward age because you have such a range of social and emotional development,” he said. “You’ve got some kids who are OK in where they’re going and they’re looking forward to the move, and then you have the other who are very apprehensive and maybe a little scared of the transition and move.”
Erickson suggests enrolling children in a Child Youth Services activity at the new location, especially if they were involved in a sport or activity while at Fort Campbell.
There is a youth sponsorship through Child Youth Services that can help the child form new bonds, he said.
Some Department of Defense Education Activity schools also have school liaison officers, and if that’s the case at the new installation, Erickson recommends parents reach out to those officers. If not, connect with school counselors and talk with them about the child, any concerns and information that could help staff.
There may be a Student 2 Student, or S2S, program that can supply peer mentors for new children. Middle school counselors also are available to meet with new students one-on-one and address individual concerns, he said.
High school students
High school students have often experienced moves before but have their own set of concerns when changing schools.
“Because high school students take credit bearing courses, the transitional issues are different, and often more technical, than ones middle school and elementary school students face,” said Stacy Daniels, Fort Campbell High School senior counselor.
Each state has different graduation requirements and individual school districts also will have added requirements, Daniels said.
“It is important for Families to request graduation requirements in advance to ensure their student has time to earn all of the credits required from the new school,” she said. “The new school’s guidance counselor should be able to evaluate the student’s current transcript and provide advice to the Family.”
Schools also have different policies on how grade point averages convert or transfer. Some may give added GPA weight to honors classes or advanced placement classes while other do not.
“It is also important that Families work with both the sending school and the receiving school to ensure their child’s course load has the appropriate amount of rigor,” Daniels said. “Here at Fort Campbell High School, we have an online course guide. It has descriptions of each course we offer. This information is vital for the receiving school. They will be able to view the substance of each course and make recommendations based upon the content a student has acquired thus far.”
She said transferring a student will not damage their chances of being admitted to their dream college. Colleges typically ask for an unweighted GPA for each senior to level the playing field and avoid penalizing students based upon differing school district or state weighting systems.
She recommends parents and students research graduation requirements and course offerings and make an appointment with a guidance counselor at the new school to learn more.
Keep the current guidance counselors contact information in case the new school needs assistance during transition.
Always ask to hand-carry the student’s official records to the new school. They will be sealed but if the seal is broken documents become unofficial and new documents will have to be requested.
“Work with your student to find ways to get involved at the new school,” Daniels said. “Making connections and new friends will help your child transition with ease.”