October 11, 2008
Agreement Aims to Help Military Kids With Extra Challenges
By KATHY ADAMS
Kalea Leverette, the daughter of a Navy commander, went to sixth grade in Florida, crossed the globe for seventh grade in Japan, then moved to Virginia for eighth grade.Each school had a different curriculum, a different grading system and a different set of standardized tests.
She ended up taking pre-algebra twice and world history three times, but missed U.S. history altogether. She also had to make up several Virginia Standards of Learning tests.
On top of the academic obstacles, she lost the opportunity to become a cheerleader during the fall of her eighth-grade year, she said, because she arrived in Suffolk too late for the August tryouts.
Kalea, now 15, is one of more than 60,000 students from military families in Hampton Roads who face extra academic, social and emotional challenges because of the frequent moves and separations that are part of military life.
"The transition is probably the hardest part for me, transitioning to a new neighborhood, to a new house, to a new school, to new friends," said Kalea, who is a straight-A student. "It's hard for military kids to be caught up with all the students who have lived here all their lives."
A new interstate agreement seeks to make school transitions a little easier for military children like Kalea by standardizing how states deal with a host of issues, including record transfers, enrollment, graduation requirements and extracurricular activities.
Eleven states have signed on to the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children so far. But Virginia, which has the second-largest military population in the country, has not.
Del. Mark Cole, a Republican from Spotsylvania, sponsored a bill in the last legislative session that would have added Virginia to the compact. By joining, the state would earn a seat on the commission that will craft legislation addressing how the member states handle military children's school transfers. It also would agree to rules set out in the compact.
Virginia's House approved the measure in February, but it stalled in the Senate because of concerns regarding state sovereignty and the potential impact on school districts, said state Sen. Kenneth Stolle, R-Virginia Beach .
"I'm not a fan of compacts, and I don't think we should delegate our authority or responsibility, you know, to some other organization," he said. "You just can't have a group of non- Virginians telling Virginia what the law's going to be with regard to education policy, even though they're for military dependents."
Stolle, whose father served in the Navy, also questioned the need for such legislation.
"You would think by reading the bill that we don't do all those things already," he said. "We make every effort, every reasonable effort, to accommodate military families."
In 2006, the General Assembly passed a law allowing military children to continue attending school in one division even if military orders require the family to move to base housing elsewhere. Virginia also allows school divisions to accept standardized tests from other states to satisfy SOL requirements for graduation and provides training for educators in partnership with the Military Child Education Coalition.
Some school divisions, including Norfolk, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, have their own military-focused programs and training.
Cole said he was surprised by the Senate's opposition because Virginia is a member of several other interstate agreements and can vote to withdraw its membership at any time.
"It has overwhelming support, which is part of the reason why I was surprised it had a hard time in the Senate," he said. "Given the number of military dependents we have in the commonwealth, I think it's the right thing to do."
Support isn't consistent
Janene Stocking, a mother of three and a Navy wife, said that officials, teachers and fellow parents at the schools her children attended in Michigan and Williamsburg just didn't understand the military lifestyle.
She and her children received little community support there, she said. But that changed when they moved to Norfolk last summer.
Blair Middle School quickly placed her son Mac, now 12, in honors classes. And Sewells Point Elementary School invited her daughter Julia, now 8, to join a weekly program for military children where guidance counselors lead activities and discussions to help with separation anxiety during deployments, she said.
"It just blew my mind that, you know, this was done and the kids actually got that support outside of the home," Stocking said. "I didn't even have to go looking for it, they just did it."
About a third of Norfolk students are from military families, so the division knows how to help them, said Gary Sigler, a counselor at Sewells Point Elementary, which is about 90 percent military. The school offers mentorship programs, tutoring to help new students adjust to the Virginia curriculum, an after-school program called Operation Hero and other forms of support.
While primary-school transfers are relatively simple, it can be difficult to coordinate record transfers and provide proof of address, which is required to enroll, when a family is still looking for housing, Sigler said.
And, as the Stocking family experienced, not every school division is as accommodating as Norfolk's.
Things get even more complicated at the high school level.
"For high school, it's a whole different issue," said Marian Leverette, Kalea's mother and the school outreach educator for the Navy's Fleet and Family Support Centers of Hampton Roads. There's "a whole different social issue and their concern is college."
Grade-point averages may suddenly change when adjusted to a new school's grading scale. A star athlete may move midseason and be unable to join the new team. Students may have to make up classes and standardized tests to meet the new school division's graduation requirements.
That's on top of having to make friends and redefine themselves in a new social environment, said Claudia Sweeney, a guidance counselor at Lake Taylor High School in Norfolk.
Career vs. family
Kalea's father, Navy Cmdr. Glen Leverette, said he has considered leaving the service because of the strain frequent moves put on his family.
"I know that she's only going to be a child one time," he said. "But then you realize that for the service of your country and the duty of defending it against the bad guys, it's worth it. ... It's the reason why I'm still in."
To spare Kalea another move, he has decided to go alone to his next duty station. That way, she can finish high school in Suffolk.
That pressure is why the Department of Defense set out to resolve some of the school-transfer issues military children face by working with The Council of State Governments to create the compact, said Lt. Col. Les' Melnyk, a Department of Defense spokesman.
"This is not just something we're doing to make people feel good," Melnyk said. "This is a readiness issue for the military. If military life is stressing a person, then the person is less likely to stick with it."
While the compact won't solve all the challenges associated with being a military kid, Melnyk said, "we really believe that if we can smooth this transition, it goes a really long way in making the moves easier."
The initiative has gained support from the National Military Family Association, the Military Child Education Coalition and the Military Officers Association of America, among others.
Del. Cole plans to resubmit his bill for the upcoming legislative session in January, but said its chances may be slim because it carries a roughly $80,000 annual price tag.
The cost is relatively small, he said, but "given the budget situation, it may be difficult to get anything that costs any money through next year."
In the meantime, he is working to garner additional support from veterans and military organizations.
"Military families already sacrifice enough to serve the country," he said. "There's no reason their children should have to sacrifice their educational opportunities."
Kathy Adams, (757) 446-2583, firstname.lastname@example.org
A new interstate agreement seeks to make school transitions easier for military children by standardizing how states deal with a host of issues.
Eleven states have signed on so far. Virginia, which has the second-largest military population in the country, has not. by the numbers
Military population, July 2008
1.4 million active duty
727,097 military children ages 5-18
149,964 active duty in California
125,588 active duty in Virginia
122,594 active duty in Texas
About 60,000 military children transfer challenges
Military children face a variety of issues when changing schools, including:
* Varying entry ages for kindergarten and first grade
* Transferring school records
* Class placement, especially with honors, Advanced Placement, gifted and special-needs classes
* Course sequencing and varying levels of curriculum difficulty
* Redundant or missed standardized tests
* Graduation requirements
* Exclusion from extracurricular activities help for families
Military Child Education Coalition
School information for each state, plus scholarship and program resources.
Fleet and Family Support Centers of Hampton Roads
School outreach, consultation, resources, educator training and school-transfer information.
Virginia Department of Education
Resources and information on Virginia's policies regarding military students.
Originally published by BY KATHY ADAMS | THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT.
(c) 2008 Virginian - Pilot. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.