By Toni W. Riley
Adults may take a playground for granted, but for a young child, missing their favorite playground could be a struggle of adjustment when an Army family makes a move. Army families have to adjust to new communities each time they PCS to a new duty station. With repeated moves, children have to develop their own ways of coping, their own ways of working through changes and build their own resiliency.
The children of Chaplain Craig and Kara Honbarger have learned their own ways of adjusting to new environments with each move the family has made.
Fifteen-year-old Abigail Honbarger has moved six times and been to just as many schools since 2008. Her sisters Lydia, 13, and Chloe, 10, have been adjusting to new schools with those moves since they started Pre-K.
Abigail explained how she dealt with each move, the things she missed and the adjustments she made.
The first adjustment she could remember was leaving behind the playground at her Fort Bragg School when the family moved to Camp Merrill in 2008. Abigail was 7.
The family was at Camp Merrill in Dahlonega, Georgia, for three years, where Abigail was in second to fourth grade and where Lydia was in Pre-K through first grade. Blackburn Elementary School in rural Georgia offered a small community that was the family’s favorite.
In 2012, Chaplain Honbarger had the opportunity to attend a six-month short course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. The family moved there for six months, where Abigail attended half of fifth grade and Lydia attended half of second grade. The inner-city school was far different from the comfortable Camp Merrill. When she left the South Carolina school, Abigail felt she was behind in her class work, she didn’t like all the traffic noise around their home and she starting sleeping with a fan on to block out the noise -– she continues that habit today.
The family moved to Fort Campbell at mid-term 2012, and the next year, all the girls were in school on post. Abigail credits a very caring teacher with helping her make the adjustment to a new school, where she knew there were gaps in her education. At Fort Campbell, she only had one teacher, which Abigail said was good for her adjustment and unlike in the school in South Carolina where she changed classes.
The family moved again to Fort Bragg at mid-term 2013, where they stayed for one and a half years. Abigail completed six and seventh grades, Lydia third and fourth, and Chloe kindergarten and first before the family moved back to Fort Campbell.
Kara said she and Craig feel it is important they keep the family together, so with each move they keep that in mind and try to do their best to make it transition as smooth as possible.
For the move from Fort Campbell to Fort Bragg, she and Craig chose to have their daughters attend a Department of Defense school on post to help ease the mid-year transition. DoD schools are geared for children who come and go from one DoD school to another, and the curriculum is the same at any school a military child might attend.
When the family moved back to Fort Campbell in 2014, Chaplain Honbarger hoped it would be their final move and planned to retire. The family decided to settle in Clarksville and the girls would attend Montgomery County Public Schools. Abigail was in eighth grade.
Kara said moving from a DoD School to a public school can be a really big adjustment for children. She noted that public schools —- even those in military areas —- are not always attuned to the coming and going of military students, and some students can get lost in the shuffle. She also said that public schools are more accelerated than DoD schools, and it is important for parents to be advocates for their children.
“(Educational) records don’t always follow the children,” she said. Kara recalled how Lydia was put in a remedial program in second grade because she wasn’t at grade level with her reading. She had to work with school officials to eventually get her children in the gifted program.
When talking about her journey from school to school, Abigail said moving at midterms wasn’t always sad because she didn’t have to finish end-of-year projects. On the flip side, the 15-year-old said she learned not to make close friends and to sort of put herself “in a bubble” to not make friends she would lose.
Even though she is an articulate student, Abigail struggled when she started eighth grade at Rossview. At her previous DoD school, she had actually skipped a math class but was now faced with Algebra I. She made her first B but learned to develop study skills. At Rossview, Abigail said she had good teachers, learned to make friends and was motivated.
All three of the girls talked about being nervous when going to a new school and not knowing their way around. All schools “smell” different, they said, and each school has different discipline requirements.
As their mother, Kara said when they were moving, she spent time studying the school from the school’s website. She would also take the girls in the day before they were to begin to walk through the halls. She and Craig kept open communication with the girls to help ease their concerns.
Kara said with each move, it helps if children can “take something with them,” such as an extra-curricular activity. For Lydia, she had soccer, which helped her find her niche. However Abigail’s percussion in band didn’t transfer because she didn’t have her own instrument.
Kara said parents have to be available for their children to fill in the gaps they are experiencing. Being planted in so many places and then being uprooted catches up to children, and even some adults. Kara explained that she had to find her own comfort group in order to be able to help her children. She said finding a woman’s Bible group to attend is a constant from base to base.
While it may appear that Abigail was able to navigate the many moves with only a few bumps, she admitted that she “hit the wall” in high school. She said she lost her faith, which was an important, essential part of the family. She had to work through this time on her own and was able to “get back with Jesus,” she said.
Through all the times and especially as a teenager, Abigail has held on to one principle: “friends change, God doesn’t.”
By Toni W. Riley