USFK working with schools to smooth transitions
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Anyone who’s been in the military for more than a week undoubtedly realizes that summertime typically means moving time for servicemembers and their families.
Assignment officers know who is coming and going. Unit commanders and medical staff help track the transitions as well.
Yet, each fall, principals in the Department of Defense Dependents Schools system must wait until the first days of school to learn exactly how many students will fill their classrooms.
The enrollment numbers come at the last minute in part because notifying schools about transfers, unlike picking up medical records or returning base library books, isn’t a required task associated with a military move, school officials and families say.
And while commanders know what families and children are on their way in and out of South Korea, that information isn’t automatically shared with the school district, officials say. “Normally, that doesn’t really happen,” said Peter Grenier, the district’s assistant superintendent.
That lack of communication is one of the reasons commanders at U.S. Forces Korea and officials at the schools are working this year to make the transition easier for faculty, parents and, most importantly, students, as military families move around the world.
“It’s a big step forward,” Korea district Superintendent Charles Toth said Monday during a daylong conference to brainstorm ways to improve student transitions and share information. “We’re looking at interventions we need in place for students coming in and out of Korea.”
This summer, USFK commander Gen. B.B. Bell picked Lt. Col. Alan Bernard, the deputy commander of the joint personnel office, to work with the Korea district to bolster the command’s involvement when it comes to new students. Bernard, whose own children went through the overseas school system, said children like his own can change schools six to nine times over the course of their parents’ military careers.
“Military kids have a lot of special needs,” Bernard said Monday of frequent school changes. “Gen. Bell is fully in support. He wants to make a difference, and he wants to make a difference this year.”
Already, high school students at Seoul American and Osan are making a difference. They are planning activities such as field trips and ice cream socials to help their new students make friends and learn about South Korea.
Even these outings can get tangled in military rules. For some of the activities, the students look for donations to help pay for travel and food. But a donation of more than $500 causes extra bureaucracy, something Bernard said he would look into.
At Monday’s conference, Bernard, Toth and others worked with about 40 students, parents, teachers and administrators to prioritize ideas for improvement. Some of the proposals included: