Eight of the division’s schools were honored with the Commonwealth’s first-ever Purple Star designation. This award recognizes schools that are demonstrating a major commitment to students and families connected to our nation’s military.
Congratulations to Hermitage, New Castle, Shelton Park and White Oaks elementary schools; Great Neck Middle School; and Kellam, Kempsville and Salem high schools.
According to Natalie Meiggs, the division’s coordinator for military support programs, Virginia is the highest military-impacted state in the country. Furthermore, Region II, comprised primarily of Hampton Roads and a few additional surrounding cities, is the most impacted area in all of Virginia.
In VBCPS, families can find a number of activities, programs and outreach for military families.
“They bring a whole new meaning to family,” said Michelle Phillips, a full-time working mom whose husband is on his 22nd year in the Navy and whose family has moved three times. “Shelton Park for me has been a village.”
“From the beginning, they treat you with a hug before they even say ‘hi,’” she said about the school, which is located next to Little Creek Base and where approximately 71 percent of the students are military-connected. In addition, many staff members also have family members in the military.
From day one, Phillips felt welcomed.
“It’s a greeting like ‘wow’ to make sure we feel comfortable,” she added, saying that immediately her daughter was paired with a buddy to help her acclimate into the school. Her daughter also received a welcome kit.
“It has a composition book, pencils, a ruler, a box of crayons and a family guide book,” said Amber Musselman, one of the student leaders who volunteers to deliver the welcome kits. “I get to see everyone and bring them joy when I give them their kits.”
That warm welcome is evident when you enter the school since banners from each branch of the military hangs from the ceiling as you enter the school.
Walk a few paces to the front desk and you will see a Military Family Transition Center filled with resources available for military families.
Walk a few paces further and one can see a Deployment Brag Wall that by the end of the year is filled with positive messages from military-connected students or parents.
Mom, changed a tire by herself for the first time, one sticky note states.
I snuggle with mommy, says another.
A third note reads I’m having fun with my friend.
Only a few paces away is a colorful world map where students can see countries where their moms or dads are deployed or stationed, which according to Shelton Park Principal Tara Brewer is “a great visual and positive thing because it helps them realize that their parents are together or even closer to each other.”
This April, which is Month of the Military Child, the school will place a box filled with toy soldiers for students, parents or staff to take one so that it can remind them of their military-connected family member.
Shelton Park students are also happy to make one other special delivery, what’s called a Comfort Box, which is provided to a student when their family member goes on deployment.
“I like delivering the boxes because it helps children feel like they belong here,” said Jackson Kwiatkowski, whose father is also in the Navy.
That box comes with a bear named “Cuzzy,” which has a scarf, goggles and a camouflage-colored necktie.
“There is also a DVD to help you. You have postcards to send to a family member on deployment, a guidebook to help and a journal,” Kwiatkowski added. “Oh, and there are also two dog tags so you can have one for you and one for Cuzzy.”
“Oftentimes, students will also give that dog tag to their mom and dad, which helps keep them close to their family member on deployment,” Brewer added. “I do feel like our students are very resilient and accepting of changes due to all of their life experiences they have to deal with each day. They are the most kind, honest and caring students and so are there parents. That’s what makes us a tight-knit community.”
When families receive permanent change of station, or PCS orders, Shelton Park doesn’t forget them. The school has a rock garden outside of the school where departing students can leave a rock with a special message or icon that represents them, whether it be a heart or sayings like “never give up” or “it’s the little things.”
The Purple Star designation is presented by the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Council on the Interstate Compact on the Educational Opportunity for Military Children.
To learn more about VBCPS services for military families, visit vbschools.com.