School Liaison Officers (SLO) exist at military installations around the globe, serving as the primary point of contact for military families on all school-related matters. We spoke with Allen “Nix” Niksich, SLO at Mountain Home AFB in Idaho, on tips for transitioning school-aged military children between schools.
Military families move every two-and-a-half years on average. In your experience, how does this affect kids?
Military kids may be forced to attend as many as eight or nine schools in their pre-K to 12th grade education. Leaving behind friends, homes and schools is especially rough on them; they don’t make the decisions to live the military lifestyle. Some people think as kids get older, it becomes easier. In reality, it becomes harder because their friends and environments become even more important to them.
What is the best thing a military family can do to prepare their kids for new schools before they PCS?
While the parents make the major decisions for the family, any conversation and ability to include the children in decision making is very important. If the kids feel they have a say in challenges and transition, it is more likely they will feel they have the support of their parents if and when challenges arise at their new school.
What are some tangible things parents can do with their kids to ease the transition?
Research schools on the internet together, find extracurricular activities that will interest the kids and even contact the new base with a youth sponsorship program so they can already have a friend before departing their current base.
In your experience, do parents ever have unfair expectations of their military kids?
I think parents just expect that military kids are resilient and will be fine — that it is OK for them to be stressed a bit — that it will make them stronger. Our military kids are indeed resilient, but they are that way by learning to deal with adversity, so help
What is the biggest mistake military families make in regards to new schools?
I think families need to spend more time preparing their children before they leave their current base. Many times, parents are more concerned with housing, their next job and the trip to their new base. I think preparing for and ensuring the start of their children’s next educational experience in a comfortable setting will make the worry of some of those other subjects a whole lot easier to manage.
When do you feel like you’ve really hit a home run in your job?
Being a school liaison allows me the opportunity to talk to parents and students prior to them arriving at my base (pre-arrival emails, youth sponsorship and even a pre-arrival Zoom meeting 60 days from their arrival). While you can’t remember all their names and personalities, I always light up when the kids know my name and tell me that they saw me at an event, or better yet, that they like their school and their friends. Watching school staffs do their magic and seeing students shine makes my job easy and fun.