When our families are faced with another move, our first thoughts usually race to finding the perfect place to live. If you have school-aged kids, finding the right school usually will dictate where you search for that perfect place to live. In most cases, families are looking for that secret formula that makes a school a military-kid friendly school.
Military families have a unique view of education in America. The average military family moves every 1-3 years depending on the needs of the military. Some of those moves are state to state while others are overseas to foreign countries.
With more than 1.1 million military-connected students attending schools, issues surrounding school transition have become a top priority for families and some schools. Mobile military students face issues such as gaps and overlaps in curriculum, different graduation requirements, course placement disruption and many other hurdles when changing schools. Besides the academic issues, these students also face social and emotional challenges of relocation such as leaving supportive social networks and activities to start new again.
Parents will leave no stone unturned to find that right school that understands the unique lifestyle of military connected students while offering a quality education and resources. Schools near military installation register large numbers of new military-connected students year-round, but they may not necessarily have the tools or resources to support transitioning students.
In the past, parents had to roll the dice when choosing what they hoped was a military-kid friendly school. A school that understood the unique lifestyle of active, reserve or guard families. A school well-versed on Military Interstate Compact of Educational Opportunity of Military Children or the “Compact”. (www.mic3.net) A school that understood the challenges of education transition and our highly mobile lifestyle.
The good news for military families is there is a bubbling trend happening across the country. States and school districts have begun recognizing schools that have put in the effort to understand and support military-connected students. In a handful of states, families can now search for schools that have been designated military-kid friendly or Purple Star Schools.
Purple Star Schools Started in Ohio
Purple Star Schools is the brainchild of Pete LuPiba, Ohio’s Commissioner for Military Children Interstate Compact Commission (MIC3). Serving as Commissioner since 2012, LuPiba represents Ohio’s commitment to military-connected students and compact signed by all 50 states. The goal of the compact is to replace the widely varying policies affecting transitioning military students. Focused on consistency, it uses a comprehensive approach that provides a consistent policy in every school district and in every state. MIC3
LuPiba, also a Navy veteran, wanted to create another way for schools in Ohio to support military kids in addition to following the compact guidelines. In 2016, he gathered community leaders and those most invested in the military-connected students to discuss the best way a school could show their commitment to military families. Born was Purple Star School designation. The Purple Star Award is given to military-kid friendly schools that show a major commitment to students and families connected to our nation’s military. Schools that earn the award will receive a special Purple Star recognition to display onsite and link on the Ohio’s Department of Education’s home page.
LuPiba wanted Ohio schools not just to say they are military-kid friendly, but to show it. Along with community and education members, their group outlined a series of requirements schools must have or accomplish in order to be awarded the Purple Star designation. LuPiba started with simple requirements important to military families and students:
- Designated school staff as a point of contact or liaison for military students and families.
- Required professional development for staff assigned liaison on military-connected student issues.
- School must have a designated page on its website featuring resources and information for military families.
- One additional activity such as additional professional development, school board passing resolution in support of military children and/or school to host an event demonstrating a military-kid friendly culture.
LuPiba can now boast that 191 (and counting) Ohio schools have applied and received the Purple Star designation. Click to see a current list of Ohio Purple Star Schools.
There are currently 66 public and private Purple Star Schools in Virginia, but many more schools will be added by the end of 2019. Virginia Department of Education requires schools to have similar requirements as Ohio but takes it a few steps further. Their program requires additional information on their school website regarding enrollment and disenrollment, academic planning, graduation requirements, special needs and parent rights – all of which is information crucial to military families transitioning schools. Virginia Purple Star Schools.
Virginia has 27 military installations and is home to nearly 120,000 active duty and reserve members. Virginia also has some of the best school districts in the country. Julie P. Shepard is a parent, Navy spouse of 24 years and PTA military family liaison in Fairfax County. She’s been instrumental in helping other military parents navigate schools in Northern Virginia.
“I was thrilled when I saw that the State of Virginia made a commitment to our military families by starting the Purple Star designation. As the military family liaison to the Fairfax County Council of PTA’s and the local liaison to Hayfield Secondary School, which is the first High School in Northern VA to receive the purple star, I can tell you first hand that parents are using this as a tool to research and decide where to move based on military-kid friendly programs available to them. I field a lot of questions from parents moving to the area and there is always confusion over test scores. I encourage families to look deeper into what programs a school has to offer a student. It gives them peace of mind knowing that a school has been awarded a purple star by the state, that the school has made a commitment to taking care of this special population of students.”
As of now, Arkansas has 18 designated Purple Star Schools and growing, most of them are located in Cabot School District which is near Little Rock Air Force Base. John Kaminar is Military and Veterans Liaison for Arkansas Department of Education and retired Army Colonel. He liked the idea of recognizing the efforts school put forth when supporting military-connected students,
“We knew that we had schools that are going the extra mile to work with military families, but they received no recognition for their extra efforts. We wanted to have a more tangible way to highlight our military-kid friendly schools, and we knew that similar programs have worked well in Ohio and Virginia.”
Kaminar says creating the Purple Star Program in Arkansas has brought resources and awareness for military families into focus, “A military family coming to Arkansas can go to the website to view our page dedicated to military families and veterans includes a description of what it means to be a Purple Star School Arkansas Purple Star Schools.
Other States who are Military-kid Friendly
Texas has the second highest military population in the country with more than 165,000 active duty and reserve members. However, the Texas Education Agency decided to formally create Purple Star Campus through the legislation process. Texas SB1557 will incorporate many requirements similar to Ohio and Virginia, but the bill will also assist in tracking military-connected students through a statewide Military Student Identifier. The official roll out for SB1557 is expected to begin early 2020 with Purple Star Campus designation being given to qualifying school in Spring 2020. Texas SB1557.
Similar to Purple Star Schools, Georgia Department of Education has Military Flagship Schools that have similar must meet requirements at Purple Star Schools. However, their requirements incorporate a mix of inclusive outreach and MIC3 Compact guidelines. There are currently six Military Flagship Schools and according to their website each school offers unique outreach or military families such as excused absences for deployments, online registration for incoming students from overseas and a buddy system linking new military students with other military students. Georgia Military Flagship Schools.
There are many other schools and school districts not part of an official program that offer support and resources for military families. There is hope in the military community that a Purple Star School trend is emerging across state boundaries. States such as South Carolina and Tennessee also have military-kid friendly cultured schools with Purple Star Schools. And states like New Mexico, Washington, California and Florida are considering starting their own Purple Star School Program or equivalent.
Designating or flagging schools as military-kid friendly will act as a compass for the hundreds of thousands of military-connected students experiencing school transition. Let’s hope more states embrace the color purple and the designation. It will take the guess work out of searching for the right school for our military-connected kids.