If you have kids, relocating with the military can also mean moving schools and sorting through a maze of academic requirements and rules. That’s just one of the reasons many military families choose homeschooling instead.
But it still brings plenty of challenges. Rules for homeschooling vary by state, and getting plugged into a new, supportive community can be a challenge, no matter how often you do it. Toss learning to navigate homeschooling thanks to an overseas PCS, and the process can seem even more complicated.
Military homeschooling expert Natalie Mack has the tips, tricks and insight for making military homeschooling just a little bit easier. In this episode of “PCS with Military.com,” she lays out the help you need for moving with your homeschooled family and making the best of schooling, no matter where you are stationed. Listen now.
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The following is an edited transcript of this episode of PCS with Military.com.
Amy Bushatz: Welcome to PCS With Military.com. I'm your host, Amy Bushatz, Military.com's executive editor. On this podcast, we talk about everything you need to know to make this military move season your best yet. PCS With Military.com is brought to you by Navy Federal Credit Union. Proudly serving all branches of the armed forces, veterans and their families. No matter where you are in your military career, Navy Federal Credit Union has the products and resources to help you navigate your finances. Learn more at NavyFederal.org. Our members are the mission.
Now, let's get this PCS started.
Moving with your military family means navigating all sorts of life changes. And that is especially true when it comes to relocating kids. Getting plugged into a new school, social network and community can feel like such a huge challenge, even for the most resilient among us. The military community is host to a robust homeschooling community, parents who choose to school at home for a whole variety of reasons, one of which might be that it makes relocating education efforts that much easier. But that doesn't mean moving homeschool doesn't also come with special challenges.
How do you make sure your homeschool meets your new states or country's rules and regulations? What resources are available from the military to make this easier? And since everything is better with community, how do you find a new homeschooling community wherever you are? Here to help us with that step today is Natalie Mack, a Navy spouse whose husband recently retired.
Natalie is an author, speaker and experienced military home educator. She also has 21 years under her belt supporting military homeschooling families through work, through her own mentorship business, and as military community outreach coordinator with the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, also known as HSLDA. Today Natalie's going to share her best tips for making homeschooling work with your PCS life.
Natalie, welcome to PCS with Military.com.
Natalie Mack: Thank you so much, Amy. I am excited to be here.
Amy Bushatz: Well, I am so excited to talk to you today. This is such a daunting subject for people who are new to it and something that's very familiar, but still a little daunting for people who are already into it. So why don't you start by telling us how many times you personally have moved with or without the military.
Natalie Mack: Okay. So our kids keep count. We uh, actually have moved about 16 times. A few of those well, actually it probably could have been more if we did not have my husband did not have three consecutive assignments in the Hampton Roads area, so we were able to stay at Little Creek for several several years, but that would've been probably two additional moves, so probably would've been 18 .
Amy Bushatz: The Navy in particular, is so good at sticking around Virginia Beach area, so.
Natalie Mack: It's a big hub. It's a big naval hub, definitely.
Amy Bushatz: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, I'm really excited to talk about this subject today for two reasons.
One, it's important and two, this subject was actually directly requested by a PCS with Military.com listener, who is new to the military life and working through these issues. So I'm really grateful to you for helping us because we're checking two boxes here, important and also by request sort of episodes.
Can you start by giving us a big picture on the rules though? Is homeschooling legal for military families in all 50 states? And what about those who are stationed overseas? Give us the big picture.
Natalie Mack: Okay, so I'll put a disclaimer out there. Although I do work for HSLDA, I'm not speaking for them at this moment, I'm speaking as Natalie Mack, with 22 years of homeschooling experience in the military community. So I do need to put the disclaimer out there, but yeah, it's, homeschooling is legal around the whole country. 50 state, definitely legal. It is. definitely legal because of the advocacy of organizations like HSLDA and the state organizations. And we have that benefit of being able to move frequently as military families and it's legal wherever we go.
Now when you are getting orders overseas, a lot of families get really. They wanna know, is this gonna be okay? Is it's legal? How do I do this? And what I have always guided and mentioned based on my own experience as well, we did move overseas to Naples, Italy, when we were homeschooling. And so I do have that personal experience.
So if you are on orders and you have moved overseas, OCONUS as we like our acronym pronounce. Then and you are in a country that is a NATO country that has Status of Force Agreements. Okay. So yeah, there's a couple of things I, nuggets I mentioned there, right on orders, NATO, country Status of Forces Agreements, then you can homeschool. You can homeschool, and there are no requirements. Unlike in the state CONUS yes, each state has laws that you need to follow, because education is under state jurisdiction. But when military families move overseas on orders NATO countries that are Status of Forces, then they are able to homeschool without any legal requirement.
And so, basically I also mentioned a lot of times DoDEAtypically, their statement is that they don't really have an official position, but they affirm a parent's right to choose to homeschool. And so that is why there isn't any particular legal requirement for military families when they move overseas.
And so now if you're in a country, in a situation like some foreign service officers, some of our diplomat families and some of our military that are in assigned to locales and duty stations that maybe not be in a NATO country under Status of Forces, that is a completely different situation. I always recommend that military families consider joining HSLDA because that is one of the benefits that comes with the membership, that if you have questions and concerns, and if you are particularly going to be station in a country, where homeschooling may not be legal in that country, then you are stepping into a different situation and always say caution. Always say, get some legal backing behind you. Get in contact with one of the attorneys at HSLDA to make sure that you know what to do. Because let's use a country such as Germany where homeschooling is not legal. And German citizens, their homeschool have faced quite a bit of challenge in being able to, to homeschool. But it being a military family assigned there and we know how many installations, how many bases still exist in Germany, not as many as used to be, right? But there's still quite a few. You don't know what is there, so you are fine, but a German citizen is not. And so you just wanna make sure you cover all of your bases. Even more so in some of the countries that we get assigned to that are not NATO.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So you mentioned uh, two things I wanna pedal back on real fast. You mentioned DoDEA, which is of course the Department of Defense Education Activity, right? Am I
Natalie Mack: Exactly.
Amy Bushatz: Am I now, right? So that is for people who maybe are stateside and haven't dealt with that yet, that is sort of the DODs school system and if you are overseas, that is how, that is essentially the public school system for military students. Now stateside, you may not have crossed paths with this because there are only a few bases that have schools that are under that system. Fort Benning Georgia is one of them soon to be Fort Moore, Georgia. Maybe by the time people hear this it is a new name. Okay. So, uh, but at the time we're recording,
Natalie Mack: Camp Lejeune is one.
Amy Bushatz: Camp Lejeune, that's right. Fort Campbell, Kentucky also has DoDEAschools on them. So these do exist stateside, but mostly they're overseas and it is effectively the public school system overseas. So I'm glad that you mentioned it, because if you didn't homeschool, you may be going there into that system.
The other thing you mentioned is SOFA which is a Status of Forces Agreement, as you mentioned. In a separate episode of this season of PCS with Military.com we talk about SOFA in light of military spouse employment. But if you guys listen to that episode, this is a related topic because as Beth Conlin mentions in that episode, which you may or may not have heard yet SOFA influences so many things. One of them is employment rules for military spouses. Another one is the schooling stuff. So we talk a lot about SOFA in that episode. If you want to know more about SOFA, you can listen to it. But she does specifically mention this sort of blanket NATO situation that you have so beautifully addressed here. And it's interesting how these things dovetail together.
So what I hear you saying is two things: if you're going overseas and you're in a NATO country, you're home free. If you are going overseas and you are in a non NATO country, those countries also have Status of Forces Agreements with the US but they may not cover homeschooling the way that the NATO one does.
And so it's gonna be country by country. Check out HSLDA for that. Natalie, do the JAG offices address these concerns as part of the sofa briefing As.
Natalie Mack: You know, I don't remember specifically that being addressed when we were over in Naples. We do have that newcomers orientation there. I don't remember specifically about homeschooling being addressed. And so I think they kind of stay away from that and they just deferred to HSLDA in many cases.
Um, One of the things I did wanna say that is really neat about being overseas and having that DoDEAis that homeschoolers have the opportunity to sign up and to take classes, they can take the standardized testing like the AP and the SAT and the PSAT for the high school level. They can also do clubs and activities. They can also participate in sports. And so, they could use the libraries at the local DoDEA school. So there's benefits that you can actually employ and take advantage of that you are not typically able to in the local public schools in the state. It just varies by state.
Amy Bushatz: That's great. That's great. So we've touched on this a little bit already. What's the best way for moving families to learn those rules or requirements in their new location? Because you mentioned the newcomers briefing, but this sure sounds like something I wanna know before I get to the briefing. I wanna know this when I get my orders.
Natalie Mack: You are so right. You really even wanna know when you get penciled in because you know that's that pre-orders, right. And so definitely I get this, asked this question all the time by military moms and homeschoolers that have contacted me, people that are already homeschooled, who are looking at homeschooling and as you know, homeschooling, military is going up. I follow the Blue Star Families military family lifestyle survey, and they're the ones tracking, they're the only DOD n onprofit that I know of that is tracking homeschooling in the military.
But how do you, what, how do you find out? That's a good question. There are three best ways, three best ways. I mean, there's really three best ways and one informal way. The one informal way I will shout out my military homeschoolers, my military mom, homeschooling mom, we're so supportive and there's so many Facebook groups that we actually love to share information and help fellow homeschool. And you'll see common questions like, oh, I'm going to Fort Hood, or you know, I'm going to Camp Lejeune or Camp Pendleton. You know, what are the laws there? What's homeschooling like? And so that's an informal way.
But three formal ways would be, of course, I've mentioned HSLDA, homeschool legal defense. There's a legal page there. Again, I'm not speaking on every hand, but I do know that many families access that. The state homeschool organizations, many states have homeschool organizations at the state level. They're typically nonprofits, but they are also they, you know, they just have so much information you can access, as well as state education websites and the Department of Education for the, you know, the state of North Carolina as an example. Those typically have lots of information about homeschooling as well.
Amy Bushatz: That's great. So, what I hear you saying is tap into your community. You know, military spouses are great about sharing information about bases. Like if I'm going to, I don't know Virginia Beach area, there is a Facebook page there and people are eager to share everything from information about housing on base to include floor plans like or drivebys of your new potential location. Hey, I might move into this house. Can someone drive by and tell me if it looks okay? To a haircut recommendations for a hair salon and where to get your hair done. So it's can be a wide range on those pages. And the homeschooling pages I imagine are very similar, like just as supportive, just as much information for the locality.
Natalie Mack: You're right. Exactly. Yeah.
Amy Bushatz: Just a quick pit stop here to thank our sponsor. PCS With Military.com is brought to you by Navy Federal Credit Union.. They may be called Navy Federal, but they don't exclusively serve sailors. Serving all members of the armed forces, they have the products and resources to help you navigate your finances through every phase of life. So even if you can't tell port from starboard, Navy Federal Credit Union will help you earn and save with great rates and exclusive discounts. Learn more at NavyFederal.org. Navy Federal Credit Union, our members are the mission, an equal housing lender.
Amy Bushatz: So you mentioned plugging into that DoDEA entity when you're overseas. Does the military offer any other resources for making homeschooling easier? Maybe stateside on base, off base what do they have we should know about?
Natalie Mack: Yes. Well, the military really has no official position on homeschooling because education is under the state jurisdiction.
And I mentioned DoDEA and that it affirms parents rights to homeschool. They don't have an official opinion about it one way or the other. So they stay pretty clear out of it for the most part. But I will shout out um, our school liaison officers. I work quite extensively with them. I've gone to San Antonio to train uh, at their school liaison program summit last September. And school liaison officers work on behalf of all military connected. And that and definitely, and they work in the arena of education and making sure our military connected families have the resources that they need. So one of the things that I really advocate and work hard is to make those connections with school liaison officers all over the world, which I'm thankful that I do have connections in a lot of places. And it's been a benefit so that when a family reaches out to me, I'm able to say, oh, have you talked to your school liaison officer?
Now it's still something that's in progress in terms of strengthening that relationship between that SLO and the military homeschooler. Because typically I think many military homeschoolers perceive the school liaison officer as an advocate for those who are not homeschooling, meaning that their, you know, primarily um, have resources that would support a family choosing a public or private school at, near or on that install.
But what I'm finding is school liaison officers really wanna reach the military homeschooler and they really want to say, Hey, we are here to support you as well. You as a military homeschooler fall under our I don't wanna use the re word responsibility, but basically, It's part of their job to support that military homeschooling family.
And so, that's an advocate that the military does provide. Not necessarily just for homeschoolers though, but in general for military connected uh, families. And so that's one of the things that I'm really working hard on is like making the connections with across the board Navy, Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Space Force, and Coast Guard, definitely, to reach them. So.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. And then, you know, you mentioned being able to leverage these classes or sports or activities as a military student or as a homeschool student, rather oversees as a military family member. And I know on bases stateside, and I haven't been stationed overseas, but I imagine that this is just as true there. There are so many different sort of resources that are learning adjacent on base. So I'm thinking like things like the Arts and Craft Center and all of these different accessible activities that really are accessible for everyone. But if you change the way that you're looking for at them to be, this is a learning tool because when you're a homeschooler, everything's a learning tool.
Natalie Mack: You're so right
Amy Bushatz: Now that's a learning tool too. And that becomes an accessible and low cost in a lot of situations resource to make homeschooling a little bit more, a little easier. Not necessarily from a legal standpoint or like a practical, how do we do it standpoint, but like from just a day-to-day schooling standpoint,
Natalie Mack: You are so right, Amy. And that's one of the things um, that I really advocate is that school liaison officer in many cases, has the ability to get those resources secured for the military homeschoolers. And so I'm a le um, president of Fort Belfor Home Educators and the relationship I have with our prior school liaison officers, she just transitioned up to the Marine Corps, Kristen Acquah has been awesome. And through that partnership we had been able to get through CYS, child and youth services , we've been able to get access to a very large facility that is unused once the before care children, once they have left out of the building, right, for before care to go to school and before they come to the building for aftercare. So basically the hours of, let's say nine to 2:30, the building is there. And so we have been able to form a partnership with CYS because our school liaison officer was able to help us get that relationship. So we get art, STEM and PE offered. The base libraries typically have, they've hosted story time for homeschoolers before. The gyms typically are accessible for us in many cases. There's just so many resources and so that, and that school liaison officer does hold, holds the key to. Trying to advocate on your behalf is what I should say.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So what you're saying is it make, they've helped you make that community help a little bit easier, because like I talked about in the direction everything's easier with friends and boy is that true with homeschooling, you know? Having this base partner with you on that must be feel like a huge relief because it's a secure space consistently.
Natalie Mack: Exactly. Yes. That is a big challenge it's for the military homeschool groups where can we meet? Where can we host classes? Where can we have holiday parties? Where can we bring in speakers? All of those things. We have used our because, you know, most military housing now is, it's privatized. So we uh, have been able to use and work with the company here at Fort Belvoir to use some of the community centers, but there's a cost to that. And so, and our group is, it's a, you know, we don't really bring in a lot of money. We are a 501-C7. We don't have a lot of income coming in and we don't want it, so we don't have money to really pay for, you know, constantly payout for facility usage. So it's been really great to have this opportunity. We've hosted ice cream socials there. We've hosted, we're getting ready to host a youth curriculum sale. Now I will say some installations have been able to secure a base house, literally that the base has allocated, the command has allocated, for that homeschool group to use, which is really awesome, but it's a big challenge. So I'm really thankful we have this here.
Amy Bushatz: Yeah. So can you give us three or four tips to getting plugged into homeschooling in a new location? Let's say you had a great community where you came from, or you're new to this, you're in a new location, you wanna replicate that or find that community that feels like home to you there. Where do you find people? How do you get plugged in?
Natalie Mack: Okay. So in this season of our existence in 2023, social media is what is really the best, most up to date current relevant place. And I know a lot of families may say, oh, I'm not on Facebook, and I don't wanna be, I respect that. So I have some more tips, but I do want to necessarily put a plug. Because I am moderating several groups for military homeschoolers. And I, that's just my passion to support all homeschoolers really. But my experience of 22 years, like we mentioned, has been within the military community. We've raised five and graduated for to college, so we're down to the uh, 10th grader right now and that's it.
And so contact, get on social media. What are you doing on social media? You're looking for homeschool support groups. You're looking for military homeschool support. You need to put in the name of the installation and put in homeschooling after it, because some of the, some of them won't show up if you just put homeschool.
You need to put that installation. What else are you gonna do? You're gonna look and contact the main social media pages for that new duty station. For example, here, one of the main ones is Fort Belvoir Spouses. I would get in on that page and say, Hey, anyone homeschooling there? That we have orders we're coming you way? Do you know anyone who homeschools? What are the, what's the groups there? And you'll get a lot of responses cuz military families in general, we love to support each other in that way. So that would be one of the big ones. It's definitely a social media. Also you want to contact, again, I mentioned the HSLDA and I mentioned the state orgs.
Many of them have directories of local support groups, and that's free information that you can access on either of those websites and go and look for directory local homeschool groups. There's a to z uh, website, I think that has listings of all kinds of homeschool support groups around the world.
As well as, again, I'll put in a plug for that school liaison officer. That's one of the things I, I constantly do when I get opportunity to train school liaison officers and help them come alongside military homeschoolers is to say, you need to know that the group that's on your installation, you need to know the leader of. You need to be able to quickly give that information out to a new family coming. You know, give my name, my phone number, my email, whenever I choose to, say you can share so that new family can quickly get plugged in, even possibly before they arrive, like you said, right? Once you get orders what do we do?
We military families start to look and see what's, where are we going? What's housing gonna be like? You know, what's the school, if you're not homeschooling, if you're homeschooling, you're gonna ask some questions about what's the homeschool group like? Is there one? What's off the base? What type of activities exist? What is the state like for sports, for high school? You know, Florida, you can play, you know, and other states where you can't necessarily play at the local level if, you know, for high school sports. So it just varies. And so those are the places you wanna definitely look to get that information.
Amy Bushatz: Wonderful.
Natalie, thank you so very much for giving us these tips on PCS with Military.com today. Hopefully they make our buy request podcast listener more informed and help that family out and also help out a lot of other military families in the process. So really appreciate your time and e xpertise.
Natalie Mack: I appreciate you having me on. Thank you so much, Amy.
Amy Bushatz: Thanks so much for listening to PCS With Military.com. Want more PCS advice? Check out the rest of PCS With Military.com wherever you get your podcasts. A special thanks to our sponsor, Navy Federal Credit Union, proudly serving all branches of the armed forces, veterans and their families. No matter where you are in your military career, Navy Federal Credit Union has the products and resources to help you navigate your finances. Learn more at NavyFederal.org. Our members are the mission.
And until next time, happy moving.