In January, my school, Ohio Virtual Academy (OHVA), had the honor of being awarded the Ohio Purple Star Designation for the work we’ve done to support our students with military-connected families.
As OHVA’s Manager of At-Risk Services, I work closely with our military families and other vulnerable populations in our school. Winning this award was truly a team effort and I’d like to share five things we’ve learned which may help your school better support military families.
1. Recognize that military families need targeted outreach.
To support the academic, social, and emotional needs of military students, we formed a small outreach committee of 12 people who worked together to provide services to our 475 military families through support groups, special programming and more. This allowed us to better address the unique needs of these families and monitor our progress.
2. Be adaptable
Often, military kids have missing records because they move frequently. Our counselors have experience tracking down the necessary paperwork and evaluating transcripts to place students in the appropriate courses quickly.
Military students may also have more irregular schedules than their peers. One major benefit of online education is that we can meet those students where they are. If a student has a 2 a.m. call with a deployed family member, he has the freedom to wake up and start school later.
3. Include students in your efforts
To raise awareness and appreciation for our Armed Forces, we engage our students in several endeavors. We created a Pen Pal program between our third-fifth graders and active service members. In April we encouraged students to wear purple in honor of military families. Military-connected students have also been given time in class to share their backgrounds. These small acts have gone a long way towards creating a positive culture for military families at our school
4. Encourage connection
One thing we saw with our older military students is that were hesitant to get involved and make friends because they were worried about having to move again. Through OHVA’s online classes and clubs, we have really been able to show these students that they can stay connected with friends online, if they’re 2 hours away or 2000 miles away.
5. Support whole families, not just students
Military life is not only hard on children. It’s also hard on the spouses and loved ones of service members. This year, we created online support groups for parents and are hoping to hold in-person events once the pandemic is over to allow students to socialize with other students in their shoes and we give their parents some time off.
Military service members and their families deserve our respect and gratitude for the sacrifices they make for all of us. I am so grateful to work at a school like OHVA that is willing to go the extra mile to support our military families.
Heidi Ragar is the Manager for At Risk Services at Ohio Virtual Academy.