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How families can bridge the academic gap when moving around

I am delighted to feature this guest post written by Christianna Pangalos, Founder and CEO of TwigaTutors. Christianna helps highly-mobile US families scattered across the globe, maintain a consistent US education from anywhere in the world. Today, she shares tips on how parents can help their kids bridge the academic gap despite all the moving.

Within the expat species, my family falls into the nomadic category. We redefine ‘local’ in a new country every few years. At this pace, my kids will need to adapt to a new culture, new school and curriculum several times by their pre-adult lives. I know they will have amazing experiences and grow up understanding the perspectives of many different people and cultures worldwide. But sometimes I wonder, will they be able to do long division?

Sounds silly. Hear me out on this one . . . A friend of mine recently described how she inadvertently skipped a couple of months of math instruction when switching schools in her tweens. It took her years before she was really comfortable with fractions. Even now, as an adult, she occasionally discovers something new that she should have learned during those skipped math classes (and she has a very math-heavy Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering!).

Like many fellow globetrotting Third Culture Kids, we may move from an IB program, to a Cambridge one, to a QSI curriculum and will be lucky if all K-12 instruction is in English. Kids of the military, diplomatic, corporate and international development breed may change schools up to 9 times before they start tertiary education.

On a coming note, this cross-cultural life may have my kids mixing American and British spelling in the same sentence, or, like Third Culture Mama’s kids, they may be developing an incredibly enunciated English accent that facilitates communication with non-native speakers. But beyond the typos and funny pronunciation, sometimes there is something deeper that roving TCKs experience in their education. Research tells us that students who change schools several times struggle more in literacy and numeracy than their peers. Yikes! As if packing up our whole life and relocating 6-9 times wasn’t stressful enough.

Here are some tips a group of expat teacher-moms and I came up with about how to keep up academically while moving between systems.

1. Build an Academic Bridge

Before you transition, let the teacher you’re leaving know about the move, the new curriculum and share your concern about missing key parts of the content.  Together you can put together an exit-pack of materials, assessments and progress you can bring to the new school.

In transit, if you can get copies, compare the curricula and outline of what has/will be covered in the two schools. It’s also useful to ask about requirements for placing new students in subjects like pre-Algebra, Algebra, Biology and Chemistry. It may seem straightforward, but actually each school is different: some opt for assessments and others base placement on coursework completed.

When you get there, tell the receiving teacher where you’re coming from and where you’ve been. Helping the new teacher understand the academic (and social and emotional) needs of your kids is best way to ensure a smooth transition.

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2. Fill the Gaps

Teachers who are most familiar with your child’s abilities can provide extra assignments and support to develop missing skills before/during the transition.

Swap your parent hat with a teacher cap, pull up your sleeves and work with your child on the skills. The World Wide Web is replete with free online lesson plans and workbooks to work through. Or grab a cheapie from Teachers Pay Teachers, where you can find lesson plans for any subject that linked to education standards.

If your child is pretty independent, link your little one with Khan Academy that is designed for students to teach themselves Math, English, or even Computer Science for free. Duolingo is another great free site specializing in language learning.

Not ready to relive calculus with your child? Then leave it to the experts! Find a tutor who uses assessments to identify skill gaps and helps fill those. Tutors like TwigaTutors who are experienced with expat life can also help you demystify varying curricula and standards and set up a learning plan to best support you and your child.

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3. Keep Your Finger on the Pulse

Even when you’re steady in place for a while stay tuned-in to your child’s progress. Keep assessments and reports. Also note areas where your child is tracking ahead or behind.

If you know you’ll eventually repatriate, supplement your child’s learning with the subjects they’ll need but aren’t available locally like History, Geography, Civics or Language.

You can do this by simply mixing up your child’s summer reading list with some historical autobiographies, grab a geography trivia game, watch a historical drama or documentary, or celebrate holidays from your country of origin. For more structure your child can sign up for an online history, language or civics course. I recently came across Greek lessons online

In summary, you can do it! And there’s no better expert than an expat to find a million and one ways to stay connected even when far away. The same holds true for education.

Christianna is a Greek-American busy mama of two, who loves yoga, traveling and collecting languages. 

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