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Home : News : News
NEWS | Oct. 12, 2012

School liaison officer advocates for military children

By Robert Goetz Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

It's estimated Air Force families move on average every 2.9 years, so it's no surprise that the frequency of permanent changes of station can profoundly impact military children, especially in the area of education.

Fortunately, trained professionals who help families cope with educational challenges can be found on installations throughout the armed forces.

The school liaison officer serves as a link between military families and schools, advocating for the educational needs of children during these frequent periods of transition.

"I am here to equip parents to be the best advocate they can be for their child's education by providing information and referral services," Wanda Cooper, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph school liaison officer, said. "My job is to level the playing field for military children when it comes to their education, be it academic or extracurricular involvement."

Cooper, who has served as Randolph's full-time SLO for almost two years, said educating administrators, counselors and teachers at public, private and charter schools is an important part of her job.

"A lot of schools aren't aware of the issues the military child faces, such as frequent moves," she said. "A military child may change schools six to nine times between kindergarten and 12th grade."

She said schools need to be informed that military children move often and they have a parent or parents who are subject to deployment, which poses additional problems.

Cooper is one of four school liaison officers for JBSA.

"We work to cover 23 school districts with more than 20,000 federally connected students," she said. "We go out and network with local school superintendents, counseling staffs and teachers. We assist and train them on issues relating to the military child."

In addition to the social challenge of making new friends, a military child in a new school may encounter a host of academic and extracurricular issues, from placement in educational programs to eligibility for teams and school organizations.

"For example, consider a child who moves into a new district his senior year of high school," Cooper said. "Graduation requirements are different from state to state, so we help connect the sending school with the receiving school.

"If a student enrolls in a Texas high school as a senior, but doesn't meet the state's graduation requirements, that student may be able to receive a diploma from the sending school," she said. "I contact counselors from both schools to try to work out an academic plan that will be in the best interest of the child."

Cooper said another example of how schools can accommodate military children involved a girl who had missed cheerleader tryouts at a particular school in the spring because her family had not yet moved. She was allowed to submit a videotape of her skills when she enrolled in that school in the fall, and she was named to the team.

A document that addresses the educational challenges of military families is the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children, Cooper said. Developed by the Council of State Governments' National Center for Interstate Compacts, the Department of Defense, national associations, federal and state officials, departments of education, school administrators and military families, the compact provides for the uniform treatment of military children transferring between school districts and states, addressing myriad issues.

"We educate schools on the compact, and that helps them resolve issues," she said.

Cooper, whose husband is a retired master sergeant, is personally aware of the educational challenges of military families. Her two children attended numerous schools during his military career.

"My daughter attended three high schools - in Japan, Kansas and Texas," she said.

Cooper said it's important SLOs immerse themselves in their communities, so she tries "to put a face to her position." She said she attends school board meetings frequently and serves on a panel that recommends candidates for the Randolph Field Independent School District Board of Trustees.

She also partners with Deloitte Consulting Services, which provides scholarships for the Close Up Foundation's education program that brings high school students to Washington, D.C., to learn more about the democratic process.

A former substitute teacher and tutor who earned her master's degrees in counseling and psychology, Cooper said she "has a passion for military children, first-hand experience about how military children feel and knowledge of the obstacles military children face every time they move."

She said she strives to empower parents to play a greater role in their children's education.

"I give parents information so they can be the best advocate for their child's success," Cooper said.

For more information on school liaison services, contact Cooper at the Randolph Airman and Family Readiness Center, 652-5321.