For 20 years of her homeschooling journey, Marine veteran and military homeschool mom Gina Payton didn’t know she might receive support from School Liaison Officers (SLOs). Now she leads a military homeschool support group that is flourishing thanks to support from one of them.
The Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard and Space Force have SLOs, and they are stationed on bases worldwide. They are civilians working for the military, and they are tasked with helping all military families, including those who homeschool.
But some homeschoolers either don’t know about these officers, or are reluctant to reach out to them, because of the perception they might not be helpful. For their part, SLOs are not always sure how to help homeschooling families.
HSLDA’s Natalie Mack, military outreach coordinator, is working to change all this by equipping SLOs to help, and by serving as a bridge between them and the homeschooling families in their area. It’s a key aspect of the HSLDA Military Outreach program.
“The training provides a needed framework to understand homeschooling within the military context,” Natalie said. “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.”
Natalie recently hosted a Facebook Live with SLOs from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps to share how they can help homeschooling families. She also works to connect homeschooling families and leaders with specific SLOs. Gina Payton was one of those leaders.
Connecting with an SLO
Gina learned about SLOs after her husband retired from the military. At the time, she felt called to go back and serve the military community. In January 2023, she started a military homeschooling support group in the Florida Panhandle. That’s when she found SLO Lacey Allen.
The function of an SLO is to support military families as they navigate education for their children. Their duties include helping with academic support and difficult school transitions, coordinating with local school systems, and connecting the military, community, and local schools.
Lacey supports Gina’s group primarily by providing resources for homeschooling. She creates bins of Legos, playground equipment, games, and storybook containers for their group to pick up every Monday to borrow for the duration of their meetup. And Gina can always go back to Lacey and ask her for simple things, like crayons, scissors, and craft paper.
“Military families—we tend to just sacrifice other items from our personal home budget in order to buy educational resources,” Gina 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. So, I can go back to her and say, ‘Can you provide or let us borrow this list of stuff?’ And she usually does.”
Gina’s group, called Panhandle Christian Home Educators, serves military homeschooling families based in Hurlburt Field, which is an Air Force base about an hour East of Pensacola.
Lacey also uses her established relationships with families on the base to connect new military homeschooling families and help them adjust to the community.
“There are times when you move to a new base, and you don’t know anybody,” Gina said. Military members know that a PCS can be a really challenging time for the family. “So, as an SLO, she is one more person on the installation that will help them figure things out.”
Lacey also connected Gina’s group to military education programs in her area, which include free summer STEM courses (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) through the Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, and programs from The Naval Flight Academy in Pensacola.
Many of these programs are open to all military families stationed in the area. “Twenty years ago, I didn’t have any of that!” Gina said.
Gina is also thankful for Carissa Bergosh’s efforts in helping homeschooling families. She is a retired Marine spouse who knows a lot about the area surrounding Hulburt Field, and is an SLO at NAS Pensacola.
Carissa organizes a monthly meet-up in Pensacola, where military homeschool parents connect with military homeschool leaders to clarify questions and receive support. She also provides resources for students.
“To talk to her is just a wealth of information for military families to find out,” she added. “She’s wonderful.”
A Wonderful Vision
Gina was connected to Lacey through Natalie, who told her that Lacey was based in Hurlburt Field, and that she might be able to provide support for her group.
So Gina reached out to Lacey, and was surprised to see how motivated Lacey was and is to understand the different perspectives of home education.
“She quickly asked, ‘What can we do?’” Gina said.
Natalie had met Lacey in July 2022, while representing military homeschoolers at a summit organized by the Military Child Education Coalition, which provides support to military-connected students.
Lacey then played a key role in orchestrating training on homeschooling for SLOs at a military summit in San Antonio in September 2022. She advocated for Lori Phipps, chief of operations at the Air Force School Liaison program, to invite Natalie to an Air Force summit, where she was able to provide training for SLOs.
In Gina’s view, hearing Natalie’s presentation at that summit was pivotal for Lacey, since it played a big role in inspiring her ongoing efforts to understand the needs of military homeschooling families.
“Natalie’s ability to brief SLOs is significant,” Gina said. “It’s exactly what we needed.”
She emphasized that Natalie’s work will have long-term effects on both the military community in general and on the homeschooling military community.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Gina said. “It’s very visionary. It’s necessary. I’m excited to be on the journey with her, and meet with SLOs, and encourage other military families to do the same.”
If you’re a military homeschooler, you can check out and follow our Facebook group here.