Jumping the Educational Hurdles after a Cross Country Move: A Military Mother’s Story (Part One)

Military life is a nomadic life. Military families will move many times throughout a career ― many more than the average American. For example, during my husband’s 38-year career, we moved 26 times.

Moving becomes even more challenging when the family has children. As anyone who has moved with children knows, transferring a student is often an unpleasant experience. It is even less pleasant if the move is between states. In today’s mobile society, the average family with children will move two times during a student’s elementary and secondary school career; three if they are unlucky.

If you are a military child the situation is much worse. On average, a military child will move six to nine times between the start of kindergarten and high school graduation. These moves are almost always interstate, if not international.

To give you a sense of the challenges a military family faces, I asked my friend and fellow member of Military Families for High Standards, Tammy Ziegler McCreery, to document the pluses and minuses of her family’s move from Utah to Alabama this summer.

Tammy, a former Army officer herself, is doing a remarkable job. Besides raising her own two sons and looking for a new job as a professor, she is also raising her niece. With this addition, she had to register children in elementary, middle and high school. Finally, toward the end of this process, her husband, Roger, deployed overseas.

Tammy started off by talking about the positive changes in moving from Utah to Alabama. Among the things that impressed her were the small class sizes. In her schools, the average class size is 19, compared to the 30 plus students in a class back in Utah.

She also was impressed by use of technology. All students in kindergarten through second grade were issued iPads. Students in grades three through 12 were issued personal laptops. The textbooks are either online or downloaded onto the device.

She was also impressed by the state’s year-round schedule. The school year started on Aug. 3, but there are week-long breaks throughout the year and a two-and-a-half-week-long winter break. While she laments this means there is virtually no “summer,” there is adequate time off throughout the year.

Finally, she wrote about a provision in Alabama law that promises to be helpful to both her family and her niece, a high school senior. As a minor who resides with her non-adoptive or non-biological parents, the provision helps her guardians with expenses associated with raising another’s child. The school offers her a stipend on her ID card that discretely assists her with free lunches and free entrance to all campus-based activities, such as sport games and theater performances, and provides funds for any classroom fees for sports or other clubs. McCreery notes:

What a pleasant blessing and surprise!!! Often, military children reside with others while their parent(s) deploy and information such as this would be so useful for the guardian to know!  We were not aware of this in Utah and she did not have these benefits, but the counselor made us aware of these benefits here and she’s all set to enjoy her school year without the embarrassment of feeling like she’s always asking for money. The counselor said many unaccompanied minors such as her, although loved and cared for, still “feel bad” and often like a burden to the host family. This act … [allows them] … to truly enjoy their educational experience without this emotional disruption. 

While these things impressed her, there were other things that did not. One that frustrated her was the trouble that she had in registering her niece. Alabama does not offer a military exemption for state requirements that a senior may not have completed.

As a result, Tammy’s niece must either take the missing course during her senior year or during summer after her senior year and not graduate on time.

As she put it,

How frustrating is this? My niece met the first two years of history requirements for Washington state and then moved Utah.  She then completed their special requirements online to [make up] the deficit for their state-specific requirement. Now, she’s an entire year off on credit for history because it wasn’t the history [course] Alabama requires! Terrible. Rather than having a fun elective, she will have two history classes a day, for the entire year!!! This should NOT happen to students. 

In addition, she ran into a problem with immunizations and the need to have an Alabama Blue Card. Because all students are required to have an Alabama immunization card and Tammy’s family was not physically in Alabama to get the cards, they ran into some issues with completing school enrollment and registering for classes. Again quoting Tammy,

Unfortunately, a week away from the first day of school, all the fun electives and many of the honors and/or AP classes are full! As a military family, I feel a system such as this punishes our children from an equal opportunity to a quality education. They come at the end of the line as most students select their classes at the end of the school year. A system such as this seals the fact that they will have no opportunity to compete for the courses they would really enjoy. This has been a source of frustration for months. Absolutely no person in any school would help me until I got here and got to the health department! 

In the future, some of these issues, such as the acceptance of credits, will be ironed out by the 50-state Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children. Unfortunately, the Compact is relatively new. Some states have been more aggressive than others in implementing it. Until more states embrace the Compact, military families such as Tammy’s will continue to be caught in this unfortunate situation.

Tammy’s preparation for the school year is not finished. In her next report, we will hear more about new student orientation and the issues that came up – both good and bad – in these sessions. Stay tuned.

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