by Janet Farley
If you and your family PCSed to a new duty station this year, many of the questions you have about your soon-to-be-new home likely are school related.
- Which school districts are available to your children and what kind of reputation do they have?
- Are there any private or charter schools nearby? What about online options?
- How do I get my kids enrolled?
- What credits are required for graduation from area high schools?
- How do the local school districts support students who are home schooled?
School liaison officers can answer these types of questions and more. They advocate for the educational needs of all military-connected children and that’s a good thing.
According to the Military Child Education Coalition:
…military children move, on average, three times more than their civilian counterparts, attending between six and nine schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Couple frequent transitions and all they can involve on personal and academic levels with other stressors of military life, such as having a parent or two deploy, then it is easy to see the importance of the roles that SLOs play within our military communities.
More of What SLOs Do
School liaison officers serve as primary points of contact for military children in grades K-12 on education related issues in military communities. They act as a bridge of sorts that connects families, commands and schools, keeping them up-to-date about issues that matter.
“We work for families who are both PCSing in and out of the community, whether they are planning to live on or off the base,” said Victoria Henderson, a school liaison officer who works at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“Moving itself is stressful enough and we can help lessen some of that stress for families by pointing them in the right directions,” said Henderson.
“We interview families to get a real feel for what it is they need to know and then we do the research for them,” said Henderson. By doing this, Henderson said that she is able to provide more targeted information to help the family make good choices for their students.
“Every family is different. Some want to know which schools have the best academic programs while others may be more interested in the sports program or band,” said Henderson. “We can point the parents to good resources giving the information they seek,” said Henderson.
Henderson mentioned that one such resource is Great Schools (www. greatschools.org), which provides nationwide school information by location.
SLOs also help out when families experience deployments.
“Many school districts are cracking down on truancy and not allowing students to be absent more than 10 days a year. That can be problem at times for some military kids,” said Henderson.
“When a military parent is getting ready to deploy or returns from a deployment, we can advocate for more time off for that child if necessary to be with his or her parent on either side of that deployment,” said Henderson.
SLOs not only work on behalf of individual families but they also actively work to identify barriers to academic success and develop workable solutions on a big picture level.
“For example, Colorado is a choice state, meaning families can choose to enroll their school aged children in a school district outside of the one they are zoned to attend according to their address as long as they provide their own transportation,” said Henderson.
This sounds great until you realize that even though the program exists, it isn’t always available to military families because of the timing of PCS moves.
“There is a set application period for electing to enroll into a specific school and that is usually between mid November and February. This is way before many military families who are PCSing in to the area actually arrive,” said Henderson
“As a SLO, I can advocate on behalf of those families to be offered that option locally despite the missed application period,” said Henderson.
Henderson also said that efforts are underway to get such situations covered under the Interstate Compact on Education Opportunity for Military Children, which is a nationwide compact that seeks to replace varying policies affecting transitioning military students.
They also represent, inform and assist the commands where they work and they coordinate with local school systems. SLOs build and maintain positive working relationships between the military and the schools.
Where You Can Find Them?
Every branch of military service employs SLOs and you can usually find them co-located on military installations within the community family centers or within the child and youth services. Visit www.dodea.edu/Partnership/schoolLiaisonOfficers.cfm to locate a SLO in a specific location.