From the Homefront: Finding the right school

Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, commanding officer of Air Station Miami, for nearly 13 years and currently serves as chapter director for Blue Star Families in Miami, Fla.

Coast Guard families celebrate the first day of school. Photo illustration by Shelley Kimball.

Coast Guard families celebrate the first day of school. Photo illustration by Shelley Kimball.

Written by Shelley Kimball.

As a military kid, going to a new school was a pretty scary proposition. But I have learned that as a parent to military kids, new schools can be downright terrifying. Are we sending them to the right place? Will they be happy? Will they be bullied? Will they thrive?

Photo by Bill Keefrey.

Photo by Bill Keefrey.

As military families, we tend to have particular difficulties in transferring our kids to new school systems. So far, 46 states have banded together in a committment to ease those difficulties as part of the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission, often referred to as MIC3. (I am just going to call it the Compact from here on out.)

The Pruett family is a great example of how the Compact can work. Trish Pruett recalls when her family PCSed to Florida from Connecticut, as their daughter was entering her senior year of high school, the school district attempted to require a state standardized test as a condition of graduation. The school district also assumed, incorrectly, that because their daughter had not technically passed the state test (because she had never taken it), that she must need remedial help.

The Pruetts showed that their daughter had taken an equivalent standardized exam in Connecticut, which because of the Compact should have eliminated the need for the Florida test and the remedial help.

“The school did not agree at the initial meeting, registered her for the remedial courses and required the [Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test] as a graduation requirement,” Pruett said.

The Pruett family - Ruth , Becca, Rachel, Capt. James Pruett, and Trish. Photo courtes of the Pruett family.

The Pruett family – Ruth , Becca, Rachel, Capt. James Pruett, and Trish. Photo courtes of the Pruett family.

So they went home that Saturday to research the Compact further and better understand the Florida education codes. She and her husband, a Coast Guard attorney, e-mailed the Florida Department of Education and the state military Compact liaison.

“Within two hours we had answers back from both of them – on a Saturday!” Pruett said. “They let us know that she certainly did not have to take the test and they were surprised the local school was not aware of the Compact. We got the information we needed to get her classes changed and her testing requirement waived.”

MIC3 can be a military family’s best friend but, unfortunately, there are many misconceptions out there about the Compact. So, I decided to reach our to Dr. Mary Keller, president and CEO of the Military Child Education Coalition, a nonprofit organization that advocates for military children. She was kind enough to participate in a Q&A about the Compact.

1. What are some of the most common difficulties military families experience with their children’s educations?

Dr. Mary Keller. Photo courtesy of the Military Child Education Coalition.

Dr. Mary Keller. Photo courtesy of the Military Child Education Coalition.

Keller: While academic success is important to both the student and the parents, the child or youth also very much wants to fit, or blend in with peers. No one likes to stand out as being different from everyone else when it comes to the social environment- whether it’s sports, playing in the band, a special club, or just hanging out with friends- and the academic aspect plays a role of all that. When it comes to mobility and transition concerns for military families as they move to a new school environment, I would say the varying policies from state to state, transfer of education records, eligibility issues- whether for enrollment or extracurricular activities, and meeting graduation requirements are the normal hurdles for military families- challenges that MIC3 attempts to eliminate or at least reduce the impact thereof.

2. What are some of the best functions of the MIC3? Are there any that seem more commonly used than others?

Keller: The goal of the Compact is to replace the varying policies affecting transitioning military-connected students and install some commonality within education requirements as families move from state to state. Thus far, 46 states have signed onto the agreement. A great step forward for everyone is that the Compact allows for the hand carrying of unofficial records for enrollment purposes until the official records can be obtained from the sending school. Another point is that transferring students have 30 days from date of enrollment to obtain the required immunizations of the receiving school. Another one is that children in kindergarten or first grade in one state will be allowed to continue in school when they transfer regardless of age requirements in the receiving state.

3. What are some common misconceptions about the Compact?

Keller: Some people are surprised to learn that the Compact only outlines how states will remove barriers to the educational success of military-connected children and does not address curriculum. The Compact also does not address transitions related to school moves associated with homeschooling, private and parochial schools. Additionally, while MIC3 does cover the Coast Guard and active duty members of the uniformed services, National Guard and Reserve on active duty orders, it does not otherwise cover the National Guard and Reserve components.

4. What should parents do if their children’s school administration is not aware of the Compact?

Keller: You raise an excellent question- it seems that often no two experiences are the same. Indeed, if available, the first place to check is with the school liaison officer of a local military installation. If that doesn’t work for someone then the next point would be the State Compact Commissioner, who also has a State Council to work with him in informing school districts of the terms of the Compact. The contact information for each State Commissioner can be found on the Commission website at www.mic3.net . And I’d like to add that implementation of the MIC3 structure and processes are uneven at both the state and local levels. It is not uncommon to find that some State Councils have not yet been able to comprehensively push the information to all of their schools. This is another reason why parent engagement with local schools is essential.

5. If I am reading the map correctly, the CONUS states that have not joined MIC3 are Oregon, Minnesota, New York and New Hampshire. What would stop a state from joining?

Keller: While I am not qualified to speak to the specifics of each state, I can speculate that a natural view of some may be one of sovereignty concerns. However, the Compact is an agreement between states to work together in the best interest of military-connected students and is in no way a federal program attempting to direct individual states as to what each must do. Secondly, legislative work can sometimes move slowly and take a good deal of time as support is gathered to vote on the Compact as a statute or code within their state.

6. Of the OCONUS locations, Puerto Rico and Guam are home to Coast Guard families. Does the OCONUS status have an effect on whether these areas join? How likely do you think it is that these areas will become members?

Keller: Being OCONUS is not an issue or impact as to whether Puerto Rico and Guam sign the Compact. It is certainly possible that these locations become signees- MIC3 reports that they continue to seek forward movement in both areas.

7. What is your best advice to military parents, in general, about helping their kids through the school system?

Keller: Be involved. The parents are the best advocates for their children. An engaged and informed parent is the most critical factor to help ensure smooth school transitions and while programs and policies play a huge part in the transition scenario- it is the parents who hold the keys to the success of their children.

8. Is there anything you would like to add?

Keller: While there are still four states that need to sign the Interstate Compact and there remains much work yet to be done with many of those who have already signed, the Compact is already making good things happen for military-connected students. We all have a role in continuing the progress. The Military Child Education Coalition is proud to be an active participant in this endeavor and we are committed to doing our part to support MIC3.

Thanks to Dr. Keller for taking the time to help us better understand MIC3. Here are some additional resources as you research the Compact for yourself:

The Military Child Education Coalition site is a wealth of information about educational issues. Specifically, there are two great documents you should download: A checklist of educational documents you need when moving, and a list of the top 10 ways to help military children.

The Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission can tell you if your state is part of the Compact. It also has model language for the Compact and a great overview of what is and isn’t included in it.

The National School Boards Association: This site has an entire section devoted to the states that participate in the Compact.

The School Superintendents Association website has a section focusing on how best to serve military kids’ educational needs, including information about the Compact.

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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