Across the country, binders and backpacks are replacing swimsuits and sunscreen. Fleets of yellow school buses are back on the roads, and more than 50 million children are returning to the classroom.
While the start of a new school year is an exciting time, going back to school can also drum up feelings of apprehension and even fear, especially for the 1.8 million children of military families. Compared to their classmates, students with parents in the armed forces face incredible challenges - and not just at the start of the school year.
From packing up their lives when their parents are transferred to parting with one or both parents when they're deployed, military youth face change and separation in ways civilian kids simply do not.
On average, military children move six to nine times during their K-12 school years - three times more often than their civilian peers. That means saying goodbye to friends and starting over in a new place, sometimes very frequently. Moving can also disrupt a cohesive educational experience, as students and families navigate new schools, teachers, classes, programs, graduation requirements, and the transfer of credits and records.
Perhaps one of biggest struggles is the emotional and mental toll of regular relocation and parental deployment. As numerous experts and studies confirm, that leaves military kids at greater risk for depression, anxiety, and other issues that can trigger learning difficulties.
According to the study, "Effects of Soldiers' Deployment on Children's Academic Performance and Behavioral Health" from the RAND Center for Military Health and Policy Research, children whose parents had been deployed 19 months or more since 2001 demonstrated lower achievement scores across all academic subjects.
Fortunately, teachers, school administrators, and education leaders are taking steps to ease these transition periods and help military kids succeed in school. For instance, as of January 2015, all 50 states have now signed the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. Started in 2008, the Compact aims to streamline the educational experience for military students by addressing key transition issues encountered by military families including enrollment, placement, attendance, eligibility, and graduation.
Other organizations like Operation Homefront - which Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) is proud to partner with and support - are helping by relieving the costs associated with heading back to school. With parents expecting to spend an average $488 this year on new clothes and supplies for school, Operation Homefront's Back-to-School Brigade eliminates a huge cost burden for thousands of families. Last year, the program distributed more than 25,000 backpacks filled with school supplies to military kids across the country.
Beyond supplies and standards, check out these helpful tips for military families sending their kids to school:
- Communicate regularly with teachers and administrators. Let teachers know about past - and upcoming, if possible - deployments, homecomings, and PCS (permanent change of station) moves, as well as behavioral and learning patterns.
This fall, as young people across the country begin a new school year, it's important to recognize the unique challenges of growing up in a military home - and continue advancing programs and resources that ensure these kids have the same shot at success in the classroom.