LEESVILLE, La. (Fort Polk Progress) - “Transition is not a theory to me, I live it. As a military spouse and mother, I am passionate about my position because of [having] my experience [of] transitioning my children 13 times and experiencing 6 deployments over the last 19 years.”
Sue Lopez is a Military Student Transition Consultant (MSTC) on Project Level serving 7 schools in the Vernon Parish School District.
Another MSTC, Terri Whiddon, on the Project Advance grant serves four additional different schools in the district. The MSTC position was uniquely designed by the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) to serve as a navigator and advocate for military-connected students and families in transition.
Her role as an MSTC is to act as an advocate for military-connected students and their families, provide sponsor guidance in the Student 2 Student (S2S) program, provide college and career student and family services, conduct professional teacher development and bridge the gap to Fort Polk Installation programs and services. The average military-connected student will transition six to nine times between Kindergarten to 12th grade. The goal and mission of the MSTC’s are to reduce student and parental stress while building resiliency to overcome unique challenges they may face socially, emotionally, and academically during frequent school relocations.
In addition to firsthand experience transitioning her own children, Lopez is a highly specialized education professional who holds a Master’s in Educational School Counseling– all MSTCs contracted through MCEC are required to be a licensed professional counselor, licensed clinical social worker, or a school counselor.
As an MSTC, Lopez’s position involves work in five areas fundamental to military student success: (1) providing transition assistance for incoming and outgoing military-connected students and their families; (2) navigation of the education process; (3) coordination of installation and community outreach; (4) sharing information with military-connected parents regarding state and federal education policies; (5) and connecting families to services that already exist through bridging the gap services for families, the installation, local schools and within the community.
When asked about her role, Lopez said: “I strive to create a positive school climate and community culture that supports military-connected students and families at their campus, with teachers and administrators and within the community.”
Not only providing guidance through programming, Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC) and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) also aim to provide grants benefiting military-connected students as well as the local civilian population. Vernon Parish schools recognize the need to provide tools for military-connected student success and continually request grants that fit their district’s needs. Currently, the district receives three grants from DoDEA, covering K-12.
While working to acquire grants to assist the military-connected students in their district, Vernon Parish has also taken a close look at the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3). The MIC3 was developed in 2006 and was designed to replace widely varying policies affecting transitioning military students. The ability to offer an MSTC to military-connected students and families is in part due to the Project Level and Project Advance grants supplied by the DoDEA. Lopez stated, “Vernon Parish values military families and they have made great efforts to ensure MIC3 policies are being implemented.”
“It is difficult to provide support to highly mobile military-connected students and families if you have not experienced relocation. At each transition, the developmental age and academic standards are different causing a unique set of transition stressors. Teachers, school counselors and administrators are all essential components when ensuring student’s feelings of school connectedness which directly influence student involvement and success,” stated Lopez.
In conjunction with MIC3, DoDEA grants, and caring MSTCs like Sue, schools in Vernon Parish are better able to understand these transitional challenges and serve their military-connected students and families.
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