By Shanxi Omoniyi
This article was originally published by The Lion on August 2nd, 2023. Republished with permission.
Homeschool parents serving in the military may not always know they have free help available – through School Liaison Officers, or SLOs.
These officers work through the Child & Youth Services School Liaison Program, which is provided at no cost to military families.
“There was a lot of education that needed to be done, not only for our team but for our communities,” said Lori Phipps, an SLO from the U.S. Air Force, during a recent Facebook Live.
Even if homeschool families know of SLOs, they sometimes feel afraid reaching out to them, Phipps said.
“We’re not there to get into what you’re doing; we’re there to help provide resources and support mechanisms – anything from Tutor.com to scholarships,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of misconnection or miscommunication. … It just may be unawareness of what we do and what we can bring to the table.”
‘Able to more effectively serve’
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a nonprofit working to support homeschool families, has established a Military Outreach program, which includes helping SLOs gain a better understanding of homeschoolers’ needs.
“The training provides a needed framework to understand homeschooling within the military context,” said Natalie Mack, the nonprofit’s military outreach coordinator.
“If an SLO is well-versed in homeschooling terminology and methods, knows how to connect with HSLDA for legal understanding, and is familiar with our military program resources, then that SLO is able to more effectively serve my fellow military homeschoolers.”
Marine veteran Gina Payton is one of those homeschoolers. Although she had homeschooled for 20 years, she hadn’t realized she could receive support from SLOs until earlier this year, after her husband retired from the military.
“Military families – we tend to just sacrifice other items from our personal home budget in order to buy educational resources,” Payton said. “We don’t have the government giving us money for schooling, we don’t have a pod or a classroom we can go to.”
When Payton started a military homeschooling support group in Florida, she met SLO Lacey Allen through Mack’s extensive network.
Allen quickly partnered with Payton to provide resources for the homeschool group, including playground equipment, storybook containers, games, and bins of Legos. She also connected new military homeschool families to the group as part of their move to a new location.
“There are times when you move to a new base, and you don’t know anybody,” Payton said. “So, as an SLO, [Allen] is one more person on the installation that will help them figure things out.”
‘Excited to be on the journey’
Different areas of the country have support services that SLOs can help homeschoolers find. For instance, Allen showed Payton’s group how to access free military education programs, such as summer STEM courses through the Naval Air Station and Naval Flight Academy in Pensacola.
“Twenty years ago, I didn’t have any of that,” Payton said.
Meanwhile, HSLDA continues to equip SLOs like Allen with more opportunities to reach out to the greater homeschool community.
In one example, Mack helped the Home Educators Association of Virginia to sponsor a military family reception last year at its homeschool convention.
“Not only were military homeschooling families there in attendance, but also school liaisons here within Virginia were invited,” Mack said during the Facebook Live.
Payton praised Mack for helping bridge the awareness gap between the military homeschool community and SLOs.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Gina said. “It’s very visionary. It’s necessary. I’m excited to be on the journey with [Mack], and meet with SLOs, and encourage other military families to do the same.”
The Lion is the online news publication of the Herzog Foundation, covering a wide range of issues facing American families and culture, especially related to K-12 education. Subscribe to weekly updates at readlion.com.