The USC School of Social Work has received a $5 million grant from the Department of Defense Education Activity to develop tablet and smartphone apps that can help smooth the school transition process for military children enrolled in public schools.
This new initiative, known as “Welcoming Practices that Address Transition Needs of Military Students in Public Schools,” can help families complete enrollment forms, find tutoring programs and provide local district contacts who can answer additional questions. The app can also help families find access to special education or link student athletes with coaches.
Ron Astor, a professor at the USC School of Social Work and Rossier School of Education, will be leading the project along with co-principal investigator, Tamika Gilreath, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work.
Chula Vista elementary school district, along with four other military-affiliated school districts in San Diego and Riverside counties will also be involved in the development and use of the new app.
For the past three years, Astor has been involved with Building Capacity, a project that focuses on improving the school social climate, including issues such as bullying, in military-connected schools. The initiative places master’s of social work students into schools as interns and mentors.
“We are trying to listen to the kids and address their greatest needs,” Astor said of Building Capacity.
Monica Esqueda, a fifth-year graduate student at Rossier, has been involved with the research aspect of Building Capacity and will also play a part in the development of the new app.
Esqueda notes the significance of addressing the transition needs of children, especially those who experience a lot of mobility.
“Transition is a critical time point, even during scheduled transitions, for example from elementary to middle school. If transitions are not handled well, there can be consequences, including behavioral [ones],” Esqueda said. “In military children who can experience up to six to nine unscheduled transitions, these effects can be amplified.”
The overall goal of the program is to make students feel comfortable in their school environment.
“We want every child, every family to feel welcome every time they go to a new school,” Astor said.
Many USC students agree that the transition between schools can be hard, no matter the age of the student.
“As an international student from China, it took some time for me to get used to everything here in the U.S. I think the app is a really good way to help students get used to the surroundings,” Yahui Zhou, a first-year graduate student studying chemical engineering, said. “If there was an app like that for international students, I would use it.”
Some even believe a similar app could be useful to all college students.
“I know that when I came in as a transfer I didn’t know where I was so I downloaded a map,” Mady Renn, a sophomore majoring in English, said. “Little things you don’t really think of to ask at orientation, just the everyday troubles, would be helpful to have in an app.”
Though the new app is designed specifically for military children, it can also help any grade school student who is having a tough time transitioning.