Ohio launches ‘Purple Star’ to recognize military-friendly schools

The state has launched a Purple Star Award to recognize military-friendly schools in Ohio, school and military leaders say.

In an announcement Tuesday at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, officials pointed to the challenges children in military families face as many transfer to multiple schools during a parent’s career in uniform and deal with fitting in to a new culture or a parent deployed to a war zone.

“I think what we’re seeing is that military students have specific needs, different needs than other students,” said Paolo DeMaria, state superintendent of public instruction.

“We recognize that in order to create the conditions for them to be successful in school sometimes it takes a little bit of special focus and we want to recognize these schools that have a large number of these students and are making a difference by doing some things to provide that special attention,” he added.

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A school must reapply after two years to keep the designation. To be eligible for a Purple Star, a school must have a liaison on staff for military families and the school. The staffer must complete professional development work, tell teachers and administrators of military children in the school system, and the district have a website page connected to resources for military families, among other factors.

The state says 34,000 students in Ohio have a parent on active duty or in the reserve or National Guard. Students in military families may transfer six to nine times during their K-12 education years. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, with a workforce of about 27,000, has hundreds of students from military families in area schools.

Navy Chief Petty Officer Amy L. Johnson, 40, a single a parent of four children, knows the challenges and hardships of transferring children to different schools in different states.

In a 21-year naval career, Johnson has transferred seven times, and lived in Washington, Pennsylvania, Virginia and now Ohio, and deployed to Iraq and Pakistan.

Areas isolated from the military aren’t familiar with what the service members face, she said.

“I’ve pushed myself on schools just to be involved,” said Johnson, today assigned to the Navy Operational Support Center in Columbus. “You have to.”

An eldest son with special needs faced the biggest obstacles in high school, she said. “The support wasn’t there for him when I deployed,” she said.

Steven Wyrick has seen both sides. The retired Air Force chief master sergeant and father of two adult children has taught at Wayne High School in Huber Heights for 15 years.

Students in military families who arrive in new schools have to learn to adapt in a new setting and culture, meet new people while leaving old friends behind, and try to transfer academic credits that may not be recognized in another school district, the English teacher said.

“These are real problems that have to be worked out,” said Wyrick, 61.

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A Purple Star Advisory Board, composed of staff members with the state departments of Education, Higher Education, Veterans Services and the adjutant general of the National Guard, will determine which schools meet the criteria. Work began last year to launch the award, officials said.

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