Meet Shevaun. She’s a navy spouse and mother of four. Shevaun is no stranger to the fact that military life can be unpredictable and challenging. In 13 years of active-duty service, her family has moved six times, faced three deployments, and one year-long unaccompanied tour. Despite all they’ve endured, 2020 presented their biggest challenge yet.
When the pandemic hit and schools closed, like so many, Shevaun and her kids were thrown into virtual learning. But with two children requiring specialized education needs, this transition was far from easy.
“My children have already struggled before the pandemic due to the volatility of military life,” Shevaun said. “In 13 years of active duty service, we have moved 6 times, gone through three deployments, and one year long unaccompanied tour. My youngest school age child is high functioning autistic and it’s his Kindergarten year. My second child is on an IEP for ADHD. Moving so often has already made navigating my kids’ education really difficult. Now, with their school not returning in person at all this school year, it’s made things impossible. Both kids require extra support and specific learning environments. Virtual learning was not going to work for us.” Not wanting her kids to fall behind, Shevaun and her husband looked for alternative education options. But those come with a costly price tag. Shevaun explained, “We found a great pod program that would allow both kids to get the specialized support they need while staying safe, but it was expensive … really expensive.”
The unfortunate reality is, even before the pandemic, military families are no strangers to repeatedly facing tough choices and trade-offs. With every move and deployment, new decisions have to be made. Do they sacrifice financial security to live in a better school district? Live apart to avoid uprooting children from school or established mental health or medical care? Sacrifice their spouse’s career to manage virtual learning? “Geo-bach” to allow their spouse to continue their career? In fact, most military families pay well over the expected monthly out-of-pocket housing costs ($70-$158); 76% pay more than $200 out of pocket each month. When choosing housing, military families are prioritizing proximity to base, family safety, a desirable school district, pet acceptance, and whether BAH will cover the costs. Those things come at a cost, and military families are experiencing financial stress because of it. Day in and day out, these difficult decisions only compound the challenges they already face. And it’s inevitably affecting the mission readiness of our military.
In fact, one in four active-duty service member respondents to the 2020 Military Family Lifestyle Survey (25%) reported that “concerns about the impact of military life on my children’s education” and over a third of active-duty service member respondents (38%) reported that “concerns about the impact of military life on my family” was a reason they would choose to leave military service,. Shevaun and her husband have frequently had conversations about leaving the service. She shares, “We have debated countless times over the course of my husband’s career about separating from the military. Back to back deployments, lack of support from the military while being stationed overseas, and the overall emotional impact has affected every member of my family. Given our kids’ education constraints and concerns, it would be much easier for us to get out and stay in one location for continuity of their schooling.” If we can’t provide adequate support for the families of those who serve, we won’t retain quality service members.
While Shevaun and her husband debate what their future with the military will look like, for now, they had a tough choice to make about the kids’ education. Struggle through virtual learning or homeschooling where the kids and the family as a whole would suffer? Or, find a way to afford the pod program? Shevaun and her husband were determined to make it work for their kids. So in October of 2020, they moved out of their on-post housing and into their motorhome to free up cash flow to pay for the program. A family of six is now living in an RV to give their kids the best chance for success.
A hard-working family shouldn’t have to make such a move to financially support their children’s educational needs. Let alone a military family. Families who already face long periods of separation shouldn’t have to opt for even more time apart out of concern for their spouse’s career opportunities or access to care for special needs children. There has to be a better way.
At Blue Star Families, we are committed to finding those solutions. We do that by listening to families like Shevaun’s. If you’re a military family, share your story with us. Tell us about how you’re navigating the challenges of finding the right schools to support your family.
If you’re a civilian neighbor, company, or military advocate, join us by contributing to our mission. Learn more about how you can give today by visiting www.bluestarfam.org/give.
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