by Tammy Wartell, Guest Contributor
It is enough to make any military spouse pull out the great bargaining chip–we are not moving again! I am not going to move…and then you do. Somehow we always end up landing at the next duty station and seeking yet another new home and school.
Homes always look wonderful and exciting but you have to factor in the new school situation which makes it a bit tricky.
I have picked 5 different schools for our children in the 7 years they have been in school.
Want to know how I pick a school for my children? I start by asking my friends stationed in that area, but I don’t pick a school based on just word of mouth.
I weigh a lot of factors. I look at greatschools.org but I also go to the school, meet the principal and sit in a classroom. I have never had a school tell me I could not observe; however, you do need to schedule an appointment. When I meet the principal the questions I ask are related to behavior, academics and activities.
Questions About Methods for Handling Behavior Problems in the Classroom
First, I always ask how behavior problems are handled. Behavior needs to be addressed in a prompt manner so that the environment is conducive to learning. I specifically ask:
- What do you do if there is a child in class who is consistently disrupting learning?
- How do you handle this child after the teacher has exhausted all possibilities?
Most principals are willing to say that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The best principals I have seen start with a conversation with the child after speaking with the teacher. I had a principal tell me once they speak with them, call home or give the child a short break away from class. These are all responses that can work well and it shows the principal is willing to work with the children and parents.
I also ask what happens if a child is being malicious such as vandalism (usually older middle and high school). I want a leader who is going to hold these kids accountable.
The next question should be “What content and curriculum does this school offer my child?”
The content is different from state to state so many times military kids can be ahead or behind. This happened to my daughter. In one state they don’t study multiplication tables in her grade. Then we moved and they had just finished an entire unit on multiplication tables at the new school.
In public schools they have begun to adopt Common Core which creates a national set of math and language arts standards. All states have not adapted Common Core so you may not get same standards as the state you left.
If your child will be either ahead or behind you need to find out what the school can do to help get your child on the right track. The principal needs to be aware of this so children are placed with the right teacher and in the right classes. I have had schools provide tutors to catch my children up to their classmates.
Finding Afterschool Activities That Interest Your Child
I also ask “What afterschool and in-school activities are available to my children here?”
Afterschool activities can be a great source of friendship and fitting in for your child. My kids have done everything from card-making to basketball. Some schools have activities they can participate in during the school day such as band or keyboarding. This is a tremendous help when you are flying solo and you do not have to fit anything extra in because it’s built into your child’s day.
Activities may sound small, but they have a huge impact on helping your child fit in and belong in a new place and hey, they learn something too.
Sometimes when you’re miles away you can call and speak with the school’s principal by phone and address any concerns. I always ask to have a packet mailed to me. These are full of information about the school and the academics.
You can also let your child visit the school for a day if you are on a house-hunting trip ahead of time–just make sure to call ahead and arrange this.
If a school does not encourage you to visit it than it is probably not the right school for your child. I look at what programs they offer so if my child participated in chorus at one school, I would look for that program at a different school.
Another factor you don’t often think about, but you should is distance!
How far do you want to drive to see that precious school play or the spelling bee? If your child is involved in afterschool activities and your spouse is gone, do you want to drive 30 minutes or 5?
Distance sounds silly but it will really have a great effect on your quality of life especially if your spouse is gone and is unable to help you pick up the children.
Our kids move a lot and change schools a lot. We need to put them where they will excel and be with teachers who care. Schools need to be a place where our kids can belong.
As parents, it is our job to find the right school. A school with an academic record that is excellent, but with nothing else to offer our children may not be the right fit.
There is never a perfect school but I have seen some come pretty darn close to my idea of perfect. The only way you get perfect is to know what you want and seek it out.
I look at children’s artwork and classwork on the walls.
I look to see if the current students are happy and engaged.
I look for happy teachers who speak with, not at the children.
I look for a place that makes me at ease with placing my children in their hands 8 hours a day.
This is what has worked for me. I have 3 kids who solidly think their school rocks. Their school definitely rocks–I was the one who picked their school. When my children come home happy and loved I know I have done my work well.
How do you decide which school to send your child to after a PCS?
Tammy Wartell is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University and taught second grade this past year. She has been published in several e-zines this past year and most recently won top ten in a poetry contest. When not writing or seeking out schools, she spends time with her 3 kids and husband out on the boat and working on their house.