By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
Though Liberty-Benton High School isn’t near a military base, administrators knew that applying for the state’s military-friendly Purple Star designation made sense.
“We have always worked really hard on our culture, trying to make it so it’s a place for any student that moves in to feel accepted and a sense of belonging to the school,” high school Principal Brenda Frankart said.
The school is the first in Hancock County to be designated by the Ohio Department of Eduation as a Purple Star school, which recognizes schools that show a major commitment to students and families connected to the nation’s military.
Because of the district’s location, new students are frequently moving in as their parents take jobs at Marathon or other area companies, Frankart said. So, students tend to be accepting of new students because many of them have been in that position.
A military child could be in that position frequently, moving six to nine times during their K-12 eduation, said Chad Marzec, a high school science teacher who served in the Army.
That’s a statistic from the Military Child Education Coalition about active-duty families.
The coalition names a variety of stressors that military children might face: “Preschool children may fear being abandoned; elementary school-aged children experience disruption in continuity; teens worry about fitting in; and high school juniors and seniors may face curricula which differ vastly from their former school, sometimes to the point of threatening timely graduation.”
Marzec cited similar concerns for students, saying “maybe they’re emotionally unsettled, or academically, moving from school to school.”
“Not to mention, they have to fit in with a new culture that they’re in” and learn new names, he added.
“Having a mother or father deployed, it can be stressful on students and we want to be there to support them in any way that we can,” Superintendent Mark Kowalski said.
Students don’t always know that extra academic or emotional support is available, and teachers don’t always know they might need it.
“So it’s really started the conversation with teachers on how we can better serve our students,” Marzec said.
The designation will help military children know they’re not alone, Frankart said, and it also shows support for the Liberty-Benton graduates who enter the military each year.
Liberty-Benton does “what we can to recognize the commitment that military families (make) and sacrifices that they make in serving our great nation. We want to be great partners with those families, as we do all families,” Kowalski said.
To receive the Purple Star designation, a liaison from the school — Marzec — had to complete training “on special considerations for military students and families under federal law,” according to the Ohio Department of Education.
Marzec is responsible for letting teachers know when they have “military-connected students” and explaining the special considerations.
The school also has to have a webpage dedicated to resources for military families, which is available at http://www.liberty-benton.org/district-info/military-support/.