Interview with Stacy Huissman and Amanda Trimillos, authors of “Seasons of my Military Student”

So many schools have closed and switched to virtual learning. But some states are done and have switched to pass/fail. Will this make it harder for students to switch states next year?

Schools are different in each state because the curriculum is not federally-run. Each state is handling end of school differently. The biggest stakeholders are our high school student. Elementary school kids without special needs or EFMP are going to be ok because they will be caught up next year. High school students need AP exams, credit transfers, and college applications and will find a lot of holes in their curriculum.
Military kids don’t need an advantage, they just want a level playing field. OCONUS seniors recently have to take AP exams at the same time as students in the states, but the college board has figured out a way to administer it to everyone, and they came up with a CLEP alternative so students don’t have to take it in the middle of the night. 

When Juniors/ rising seniors move to a new state, some state schools will only allow a weighted grade if you passed the AP exam. The colleges are going to work with our students and open things up. 

As a parent, arm yourself with the rights of your child and know how administrations have handled it in other states. You need to document everything that has happened to your child through their education experience. Do not get lazy or let your child fall through the cracks. You have to be aware that there is a much bigger picture of food insecurity and homelessness, so be prepared that military kid transitions will not be a top priority. 

Educators and families need to support their student and be careful how you present the situation to your students. Check your anger and attitude, so try to be supportive and encourage them. Build them up. At the end of the day, we project onto our kids and they absorb our attitude, so fake it if you have to for a while.

We need to continually advocate for our kids, but older students need to be strong and learn to advocate for themselves too.In the book, the “Season of Thriving” is for students who are comfortable where they are. They need to be leaders and be the ones speaking out to support other students.  

What are the chances of our students being behind, losing credits, or being held back?

Students won’t be behind, because students all over the country are missing out on school together, so all classmates are going to be in the same place. Teachers will review and get students caught up.

Middle School and High School students with quarterly grades or pass/fail grades will need a way to demonstrate credits for the part of the year that has not been covered in that rotation. If they don’t complete 4th quarter, they will need enough assignments to give out a grade for that class. Schools that have completely shut down are not issuing any more assignments. Middle School students and Juniors may not have enough time to make up, and may need special permission to graduate with that hole in their transcript, but some schools may add on summer school, a Zero Period, or some way to make up the additional time in the school day. The requirements differ from one school district to another, so pay attention to the school website at the gaining school. Ask them the plan for new students, and how things will be handled if they can’t arrive until October because of the Stop Move order. The last thing anyone wants is for kids to try and navigate this on their own after a difficult move. 

Elementary school kids will be caught up just fine. Teachers across the board are prepared to do several weeks of assessments and re-gaining skills. Now in addition to the “summer slide” we will have a “COVID slide.” Teachers don’t know how bad teh slide will be, but they know they to build up the 4th quarter skills. Some schools may start up early or ease in with e-learning. Pay attention to school district calendars and if they are starting early or changing their calendars. Some districts have discussed extending the school day. If they change the start date, make sure you are able to PCS and get into your house early. The big picture is to take small bites and tackle whatever is in front of you for now. Things are too fluid right now, so let the schools figure out their programs first, then discuss where military kids fit in. 

What advice do you have for parents who are frustrated with trying to do school at home for now?

It’s tough to take 7 classes online for a young child! It’s not natural to learn all these classes online, and for parents with multiple kids, different grades, and trying to work from home, it’s extremely difficult.

Find out what the pass-fail minimum is. Then communicate with each teacher individually. The teacher can’t change the pass/fail policy because that is determined by the school and state. But elementary school and middle school are allowed to be messy. Take a look at how it will affect your records/GPA, then decide what is best for your family. As long as it isn’t high school credits, it’s ok to back out and walk away. Students in homes without great internet, without enough computers, or with an IEP may need additional support from parents, teachers, and administrators. If schools expect children to be on the internet daily, then the schools may need to provide hot spots or better connection options. School administrators can’t think through every situation and possibility. But communicate with teachers and explain your needs and challenges so they know what’s going on. The bar has been lowered, so they are going to keep kids engaged and keep them going, but expectations are lower. Give yourself some grace. They don’t know your challenges until you share them. 

Since not all districts are handling distance learning the same, what kind of continuity can they expect for those moving? What accommodations will there be to let them catch up?

Kids can be going from a robust system to a weaker curriculum where they might be bored, but eventually the curriculum will catch up to them. Kids who aren’t receiving support now going to a school with a robust program are going to feel the gaps. If you still have access to your teacher, ask them what skills their child will need to move up to this new place. We can assume that everyone will move up a grade level. Ask the teacher what skills your child is missing for the next grade level. They might recommend focusing on multiplication if they are week, or a certain reading skill, etc. Work on that skill over the summer.   

The Military Interstate Compact gives military families permission to hand-carry grades and an education binder. Eventually the school will open back up and forward records, but if the school is locked up for now, you will PCS without their records except for what you carry yourself. Look at what you already have at home, in emails, test scores, letters, etc. 

Remember that you can speak to School Liason Officers (SLO) about specific details of how one curriculum will be different from another. The SLO in your current area can connect to the one in your upcoming location so they can get detailed answers for specific situations. 

No one is doing end of course exams or transferring credits very effectively, so this is an issue that will need to be followed up with continuously. 

What resources should parents of military students use now?

Building the education binder is so important, and getting teacher-to-teacher letters. Hand carry as much as you can so it doesn’t get lost in the move. Every military family needs a PCS binder for each child. Hand-carry your own records, include not just the transcript, but an education binder with the past 3 years of grades. It shows continuity between different subjects. Indicate any family disruptions like deployments or missed school. Include work samples with reading and math levels. When you go to register at the next school, know the textbooks and levels they are using. Hand-carry that education binder to your next location to give your kids the benefit of the “teacher’s lounge” where one teacher hands off to the next. Also request a teacher-to-teacher letter about what kind of student and peer they are, their learning style, their abilities, etc. Ask for this before the end of the school year. It can work as a teacher recommendation letter for future clubs and activities. Do this for your kids during every move.

We are in the “Season of Leaving” now, but we will be in the “Season of Arriving” soon. Make sure to have a parent/teacher conference almost as soon as you arrive. Make sure the counselor understands what you have been through in the move… but have patience and realize that a lot of other families have been through more. You don’t have to be quiet because other people have been through more, but be respectful. This has been an unfair year for our kids. The Military Interstate Compact gives military kids certain rights: to try out for sports, to be placed in equivalent classes, etc. They aren’t guaranteed to make the team, but they do have rights. So know your rights and what the MIC3 covers and what it doesn’t. 

“Seasons of my Military Student Parents K-12” on Facebook is a group for parents asking questions like these. 

Watch the full interview here: