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MCEC Workshops Empower Parents to be Child Advocates

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2003 – "If you'd been here two weeks earlier, we could have gotten this taken care of, and your child would be graduating with the rest of the class."

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Alice Wooten conducts a session on empowering military parents to be effective advocates for their children during this summer's Military Child Education Coalition annual conference in Groton, Conn.
Photo by Rudi Williams

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

That's one of the last things military parents want to hear a counselor say when their children transfer from one school to another across the globe, according to educator Alice Wooten.

And that's one of the dilemmas the Military Child Education Coalition is striving to prevent by empowering parents with the information they need to prevent or solve such problems. There were so many parents with problems that MCEC created parent workshops last year to teach parents ways to ease the transition process for themselves and their children.

The workshops are the place to go for parents who want to learn how to find information to prepare themselves and their children for a successful transition, said Wooten, an MCEC workshop instructor and the parent and community coordinator for the Killeen (Texas) Independent School District.

"We developed parent workshops last year, and offered a one-hour sampling during our conference," said Wooten. "This year we increased it to a four-hour workshop. We've added a lot of components to it, and as parents have requested additional information we've been able to expand it to meet their needs."

Wooten said many parents just had basic questions: What can I do for my child? What types of information can I carry from one school to the next school? What are some questions I should be asking?

For example, she said, it would be beneficial to the new school to have certain test results for students in special programs like gifted and talented or special education. This would help the gaining school place students in the right programs when they arrive.

"When those records aren't available, the school might automatically put the child into a regular classroom. The student may be tested two weeks later and the school finds out that they need to be in another classroom," said Wooten, who conducted a session on empowering military parents to be effective advocates for their children during MCEC's annual conference in July. "Consequently, this makes the student go through two transitions instead of one. This wouldn't have happened if they had all of the records at the beginning."

Many parents want to find out what kinds of challenges their children will face in a new environment and a new school, particularly in the secondary area, she noted. "For example, military children who are applying for scholarships at a particular school need to know if there are testing requirements that are joined with graduation," Wooten said. "So they want to make sure that when they transition, they get there at the right time."

She said MCEC encourages parents to research and look ahead to find out if special enrollment programs exist. For example, the new school may have a summer enrollment center where students can register before school actually starts. This could prevent the first-day trauma of a child waiting in the office for two hours for someone to develop his or her schedule.

A two-hour wait could result in some of the classes the student wants filling up, forcing the student to take what's left over, Wooten noted. "If you go to the summer enrollment center, your child will enter the first day of school with everyone else," she said. "This will reduce all that uncertainty."

Parent workshops are often conducted as part of MCEC's Transition Counselor Institute, Wooten noted. "We invite local parents to come in, and we give them tools, tips and Web site resources so they'll be able to do the work on their own," Wooten said.

The TCI is where MCEC trainers work with counselors, telling them about military culture and the challenges military children face, she noted. Trainers help counselors develop skills they need to be able to deal with transitioning military children.

TCI teaches counselors and other professionals how to navigate through the diverse school systems of the world, Wooten said. This includes establishing a network of professionals to share information about courses, grades and programs.

Wooten said after attending TCI, counselors are better prepared to serve military children instead of saying, "Oh, my gosh, here's a military child. What do I do with them? They're different. They're not like the regular students."

"So we've provided tools for the counselors to ease this process to make it easier for themselves, the school district, the military families and ultimately for the child," Wooten said.

Taking a tip from the adage, "The early bird gets the worm," MCEC held the first two parent workshops of the new school year on the first day of school at Fort Huachuca, Ariz. "We wanted to catch parents at the beginning of the year, when their enthusiasm and interest (are) at their heights," said Marty Marks, who assisted MCEC's executive director, Mary Keller, with the workshop.

The Fort Huachuca Accommodations School System is made up of three elementary schools, with 1,400 to 1,600 pupils and a staff of 91 teachers. High school students are transported off-post to attend Buena High School in the Sierra Vista School System.

"There were some skeptics as to the date," but holding the workshops then "proved to be a very good idea," said Marks, wife of Army Maj. Gen. James Marks, commander of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca. Marty Marks, who holds bachelor's and master's degrees in education, has been working with MCEC since the organization was formed in Killeen, Texas, more than five years ago.

She said everyone at Buena chips in to advertise programs and encourage parents and students to attend. "We are offering the right information at the right time to parents who have been looking for ways to help support their students as they move through their high school years," Marks said.

Primary concerns of Fort Huachuca parents centered on course selection and the overall picture colleges are looking for when selecting students, she noted. "They want to know things like how much leadership, extracurricular, academic emphasis must you have to be considered by a college?" Marks said.

"The resources we provided through MCEC were a huge help." Marks said. "They included the academic passport and the poster guiding parents through their student's four years of high school. They really helped our parents feel like they had something solid to go by. Having a tool in hand was worth an awful lot. Of course, Mary's presentation was very well put together and very informative. The combination was very empowering to our parents, though some were wishing they had this information a year or two ago."

The Academic Passport is a 40-plus page "mini guide" filled with practical ideas and resources on enrollment information, four-year planning, academic portfolio, what colleges want and more. The full-color 24-by-36-inch poster charts a student's course, featuring a Grade 6 to 12 "map" and vital information.

Marks advises parents to have a solid academic plan for four years of high school that will be recognized and accessible everywhere. "Make sure your student's curriculum is rigorous," she said. "The Interactive Counseling Center televideo capability, which was installed by MCEC at Buena last year, allows our students to communicate with counselors and teachers around the world."

ICC is a network of schools connected through a private, point-to-point video teleconferencing system.

"As soon as Mary's workshop ended, I had parents asking me when she would be back," Marks said. "For our community, the answer to doing more of this is a resounding 'Yes.'

"I wish we had this available when we were overseas with our oldest daughters," she continued. "One graduated from high school in Germany, the other, Korea. Our overseas parents deserve as much information as our stateside families. In fact, our overseas families have particular challenges with limited resources, and often feel left out when it comes to college planning and interviewing."

Marks said the success of the workshop is the direct result of establishing good rapport between the Sierra Vista school district administration and staff and the command team at Huachuca. "This is something that had been missing for a long time," she added.


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