My mom used to let me play hooky from school. Not a lot. And only if I had good grades and my attendance was otherwise acceptable. But every now and then I got to skip school for a mommy/daughter mental health day.
I’m pretty sure I’m not suffering from any negative long-term effects from those missed days of school. I don’t think my education suffered, nor was my academic achievement compromised. However, it was only a day here and there, not weeks at a time. And I wasn’t a military brat who would attend 6 to 9 schools by the time I graduated from high school.
A few weeks ago at the AUSA conference, I listened to Marilee Fitzgerald, Director of the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) talk about the academic challenges military children face and the things parents can do to help ease those challenges. And one of the things she was very emphatic about was attendance.
“They’re in school for a very short period of time in their life,” she said. “You can’t just pull them out. A day here, a day there, not a problem. But we have to think about attendance rate.”
I get it. I get that attendance is necessary for academic success. I get that we as parents need to provide as much stability for our children as we possibly can in such an unstable lifestyle. I get that pulling the kids out of school for a week to go on vacation is disruptive and probably not the best idea. But, you know what? We gotta do what we gotta do. And sometimes, what we gotta do is pull our kids out of school.
“Holidays, recess periods, the Mona Lisa looks just as good,” Mrs. Fitzgerald said. Sure, the Mona Lisa isn’t going to change whether you see it on a school day or during Christmas vacation, so why not wait for a scheduled school break instead of skipping school? Because, for some families, it will look different if they wait until Christmas vacation. By then daddy will be deployed, and vacation just isn’t the same when your family isn’t complete.
Military spouses have to create family time however we can. Do I want my children to miss school? Of course not. But if their dad is about to deploy, and we’re presented with the opportunity to spend a week of uninterrupted time together, I’m going to take it. I’ll request homework from the teachers, I’ll pack a library’s worth of books, I’ll practice times tables and recite the alphabet until I’m blue in the face. But I’m not going to feel guilty about my children’s school absences.
As a former kindergarten teacher, I’ve also seen the flip side of the attendance debate, and quite frankly, I never had a problem with parents pulling their kids out of school for reasons like family outings before or after a deployment, or house hunting leave prior to a PCS move. The students usually came back tired and whiny, but it never took them long to get back into the swing of things.
As with any issue, there are two sides. As I was writing this article and discussing the topic of attendance with some of my military spouse friends, I realized that I may not always feel the same as I do now. My children are currently in kindergarten and third grade. How will I feel when they’re in high school? If I had been a middle school teacher instead of a kindergarten teacher, would I have felt differently about my students missing school?
For now, I plan to celebrate my children’s near perfect attendance on their first report cards of this school year. And then I’ll cut myself some slack when I pull them out of school next week as we travel for Thanksgiving.
We gotta do what we gotta do.
What do you think? Do you ever pull your kids out of school? Have you seen drops in your children’s academic achievement because of absences? Do you find that pulling your children out of school is an unavoidable part of military life?