By Lizann Lightfoot
Military kids often go through several different schools, sometimes in different states or even foreign countries. That means military couples with kids need to become experts at school shopping with every PCS move.
I have four children and have lived at four different duty stations, including one overseas. Finding the right school can be a challenging part of each PCS, but doing homework ahead of time makes things go more smoothly for my family. The better school choice you make, the easier the adjustment will be for you child when they are the new kid at school… again. Here are my best tips for finding a new school at your next duty station:
1. Learn about schools before you move
Once you have orders, you can start learning about school options in that area. Begin your research online: Websites like GreatSchools.org, the National Center for Education Statistics, and SchoolDigger.com allow you to compare schools and see statistics from different districts. Learn the school district zones, then visit the websites for the local district and specific schools. Websites won’t tell you everything you need to know about a school, but they are a good place to start.
To get more personal insight into a particular school, talk to parents who already have children there. As a military spouse, you probably know someone who has lived at that base before, so ask for their opinions. If you don’t know anyone living at your new base, ask for parent input on the base’s spouse Facebook page. (Yes, every base has one!)
Parents can give you the rundown on local school options and even share tips for specific teachers in different grades. This is especially important if your child has special needs or you are looking for certain extracurricular programs.
2. Understand your options when moving overseas
When you get orders to a base in another country, there are more school options than you think. Most international bases have a DoDEA school that teaches classes in English and according to US standards. Some countries allow American students to attend local public schools for free, as long as there are spaces available. For this option, students must be willing to learn in the local language. There are also private schools that teach in a combination of English and the local language. These schools charge tuition and may not offer a military discount.
To make your choice, start by contacting the School Liaison Officer. This position exists at most international bases for the purpose of connecting military families with a variety of local school options.
3. Plan your housing and school choices together
If you want your child to attend public schools on- or off-base, then you will have to choose housing that corresponds to that school district. Some large military bases may have housing neighborhoods in different school districts. Families who consider renting or buying off-base should ask real estate agents about school options and whether the district is planning to re-zone.
If you want your child to attend private school, you have more choices about where to live. Research local traffic and commute times so you don’t end up in a house too far away from your prospective school.
Once you have chosen a school, contact the school office. Call them directly to ask about openings and required paperwork. Almost all public schools (including those on base) require proof of residency before a child can register. You can begin the registration process before you PCS so that the school is ready for your child, but you cannot finalize enrollment until you have moved. To make the process go smoothly, be sure to hand-carry all necessary paperwork when you PCS. This includes the child’s birth certificate, shot records, references from former teachers, and samples of their current reading, writing, and math levels.
4. Ask the right questions
Whether you are trying to learn about a new school over the phone or having a personal meeting with the new principal, you want to learn details that will help you choose between different local schools. You know your child best and can help determine what is most important for them, but most military families should consider asking these questions:
- How many children are in each grade and classroom?
- Will the school accommodate our special needs or allergies? How?
- How are grade level standards monitored?
- Are there extracurricular clubs or activities?
- What are the discipline practices?
- How does the school use technology?
- Are there school bussing options?
- Are parents involved with the school as classroom volunteers or through a PTA?
What questions do you have about finding a new school?
Hit us up in the comments section on the MOC Facebook page.
Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at email@example.com.