'SchoolQuest' Helps Military Parents, Students Find Their Way

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 19, 2006 - An organization devoted to the unique education challenges that face the children of military families is using the World Wide Web to help transitioning parents and students get information about schools across the nation.

The Military Child Education Coalition launched "SchoolQuest" during its 8th annual conference in Houston last week that featured the theme, "Reaching New Heights for Children."

"SchoolQuest is tailored toward individuals and also families finding information they need about schools in different areas of the country," said MCEC's chairman of the board, retired Army Gen. Tom Schwartz.

MCEC officials touted SchoolQuest as a powerful Web tool, backed by boots-on-the-ground research, dedicated to helping families achieve a seamless academic and social transition for their children during a move. SchoolQuest provides a safe and secure environment to consider a child's educational and extracurricular needs in a new area, they emphasized.

"SchoolQuest joins the Military Child Education Coalition to weave a comprehensive network of support for transitioning families," Schwartz noted. "These transitioning families need help and needed a support tool. In SchoolQuest, we're giving them that tool, and it's Web-based. Kids are into the Web and parents are starting to get into it, and we're into it with SchoolQuest. It's available at no charge."

The MCEC chairman noted that many services available on the Web require a membership or per-use fee. "How many things you get free today? Not much," he said. "But you get SchoolQuest, one of the best tools you could have for your kids and your family, and it's absolutely free. And it's for military and civilian kids, and we're going to make a difference. It's an effective way for us to help these families, and we're excited about it."

Through SchoolQuest, MCEC is trying to help families and kids before they move, the general noted. "We don't want to just start moving them out and then they face these challenges and say, 'Oh my gosh, I've discovered this and I've discovered that," he said. "We want to get them ready beforehand."

Schwartz said a need prompted MCEC to create SchoolQuest. "The greatest thing to do when you have a need is to do something about it," said Schwartz, who credits volunteers, who give their time, money, resources and dedication to help MCEC succeed. "We felt the need. The kids talked to us and said, 'We just don't have one source where we can go to.' We started to print programs and information material, but it didn't do it. It wasn't comprehensive enough. It wasn't flexible enough to change when changes took place. Now we've built it into the Web, where we can change the information. We have dedicated people keeping it up to date."

Mary Keller, MCEC's executive director, introduced high school student Jennifer Brenke, 17, and Loretta Cremin, the mother of four military children, to tell the audience about their experiences with SchoolQuest. Keller noted that Brenke is a participant in MCEC's "Student 2 Student" program and is a special student in the humanities.

"She can use SchoolQuest for herself, or also as part of the Student 2 Student program to help other students as they exit one high school and prepare to go to another," Keller noted. She emphasized that SchoolQuest starts with preschool - "from potty training through high school graduation."

"I'm a military child - my father is in the military - and know that you transition to schools a lot, and a lot of requirements are different in each school," Brenke said. As an example, she cited the Texas high school graduation requirement for half a speech credit. "A half a speech credit for someone coming from Florida could prevent him or her from graduating," she said.

"Every student needs to know what each school has available and what the requirements for graduation are," Brenke noted. "SchoolQuest gives a through review of the classes you have to take. I want to go to a school that fulfills my needs, and this program gives you a list of different schools that have what I need."

She said when she searched SchoolQuest at MCEC headquarters in Harker Height, Texas, it came up with all four schools in her district that have the humanities courses she needs. "If a kid has the potential to succeed in life, you shouldn't hinder them by sending them to a school doesn't have the courses they need," said Brenke, a senior at Harker Height High School. "You have an opportunity to view all the schools that can fulfill your child's needs, and you should send them to the right school."

SchoolQuest highlights all the schools in a particular district so parents and students can view every school, every single requirement and all the programs they have, she noted. "If your child likes advanced trigonometry and only one school has that program, you should send them there because you know that's going to benefit them in the future," Brenke said. "So I truly believe in this program because it gives an opportunity to know that the requirements students need to graduate."

Calling high school "the best time of your life," Brenke said SchoolQuest lets student know they have potential and gives them the strength to fulfill their potential and succeed in life. "That's why every parent should know how to use SchoolQuest," she noted.

Pointing out that parents are children's best guidance counselors, Keller said it's complicated to decipher all the information about different schools in different states. "So the parent as the user is the child's best guidance counselor, and is also the best one to prevent the turbulence of going from place to place," Keller said. "That's why we asked Loretta Cremin to be one of our early users and to give us feedback and give us some insight."

Keller then asked Cremin to share her experiences with SchoolQuest with the audience. Cremin said she would share her perspective, a parent's perspective, of what SchoolQuest means to military families and other highly mobile families. "My high school son said to me, 'This is really cool!" she said.

"We know full well the obstacles, the challenges that befall a military family," said Cremin, the mother of four children and a military spouse for more than 22 years. "Military families are amazing, because they have this incredible network and an incredible ability to become flexible and to adapt. That's represented in no better place than in our children.

"Over the years, we've had a word-of-mouth networking system where we exchange ideas and information on how to best suit our children's needs," Cremin continued. "Sometimes that works, but it's always someone else's experience or advice. SchoolQuest is big -- a big idea, a big event -- because it changes all of that for military families."

Cremin said SchoolQuest is an empowerment. MCEC teaches parents how to become their child's best advocate. "It's very empowering," she noted. "Now we have this online resource that everyone can use all across the globe to be able to start the transition process early.

"So as soon as we find out we've got orders, and sometimes we don't get much notice, we become proactive," Cremin said. "To take control is not only empowering for us, it's empowering for our children, because they feel a sense of control and security. Involving them in this process is also exciting."

She said those are some of the best attributes of SchoolQuest. "The main thing is we try to think of it as closing a gap," Cremin noted. She said from the time children are transitioned to the time they're acclimated to a new school and new location, parents want to do their best to close the gap.

"SchoolQuest not only provides us with opportunities, but creates possibilities that we never would have investigated before this wonderful launch," she said. "By working together, parents, military installations and organizations like MCEC can all collaborate for the common goal of helping our children achieve academic success. Military children are very successful in academics as well as in life."

Related Sites:

SchoolQuest []

Military Child Education Coalition []

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