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Purple Star Program to Provide Support for Military-Connected Students
In the United States, there are more than 1.2 million students, 80% of which attend public schools, who are facing unique stressors and challenges from their peers and yet who are often not targeted for additional support: the children who have at least one parent or caretaker active in the military. Yet the studies that show the effects of an active duty/deployed caretaker on student achievement have been around for decades.

A 2010 study by The Center for Research and Outreach through the University of Minnesota found that children with a parent deployed during an academic year had lower overall academic scores; the longer the parent is deployed, the greater the negative impact on achievement. A research study from 2012 reported that there is a range of deployment-related factors that affect academic performance as well as behavioral health for these students including issues with homework completion, parent engagement, the mental and physical toll on the resident caretaker over fear for the deployed caretaker, changes in housing when the student is now cared for by a family member or friend, and altered home responsibilities. Another finding of this 2012 study, however, is that most of those students are struggling silently since teachers and other school staff rarely know which students in their classrooms are military-connected students let alone which ones are currently facing the struggles related to active duty/deployment within their households.

Anderson County Public Schools are looking to change that narrative. With the desire to ensure that all measures possible are taken to provide equal opportunities for academic success, school leaders have designed the Purple Star Program, which had its first meeting on April 26th, hosted by Emma B. Ward Elementary School. The first event was a great success as families in attendance were able to provide insight on ways to expand the program moving forward. The Purple Star Program is a way to open the conversation not only about what our schools are doing to make accommodations for students and their families during these times but also to get feedback on other areas where military-connected students might need assistance.

Ronnie Fields, Director of Programs and Operations, who spearheaded the effort to create Purple Star stated the following of Travis Harley, Director of Student Services: “Even before the Purple Star Program, Mr. Harley and the Family Resource, Youth Service Center (FRYSC) already had most of the components in place that were needed to provide support. Participating in the program, though, is helping to strengthen the connections with the military families so that they can access those supports. Also, we are learning of other things we can do to add to those components.” For example, Anderson County Public Schools are now aware of a student who was having to stay up until midnight to speak with a deployed parent. Now, that student’s school is going to work with the child to provide a scheduled time during certain school days to accommodate that phone call.

Also involved in the first Purple Star Program event was Sgt. Tony Likins, School Resource Officer for Anderson County High School, who served active duty in the Marine Corp for four years with an Honorable Discharge as a Corporal. Of the program, Sgt. Likins sees the potential: “The Purple Star Program is a bridge to unite students and their families within our schools and grow our team. I am grateful and honored to be part of what our schools strive for every day. I want the program to grow and make families feel welcome and know they have help and information when our military members are deployed or distanced on active duty.”

All involved, it seems, were grateful for the opportunities this program brings to light. Proud to be the host site for the first event, Kim Aguilar, principal of Emma B. Ward Elementary, stated, “I am so grateful for the service and sacrifice of our military families. As a military spouse myself, I feel a connection to our families and a strong desire to serve them. It is my goal to create a supportive school environment to ensure each student’s success, whether their caregiver is serving at home or abroad.”

Superintendent Sheila Mitchell recalled as well, why this new initiative is near and dear to her heart: “My father served as a Marine, my daughter’s father served in the Army, and her father and I kept my nephew for a year while both of his parents served in the Air Force overseas in Iraq. Families don’t always have other family members to help and this is a great way to provide support for both the families and the students. I am grateful that we can take measures to assist those families who already sacrifice so much.”

Thanks to the Purple Star Program, these students, at least in Anderson County Public Schools, are no longer going to be facing their unique stressors alone. Anyone who missed the first Purple Star Program but is interested in participating should contact Ronnie Fields by calling Anderson County Public Schools Central Office at 502-839-3406.