Aiken County schools open for military families; new Purple Star designation solidifies commitment

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NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WJBF) — South Carolina’s top school leaders were in North Augusta recognizing several districts for their work with military families.

A new state-wide program — the Purple Star designation — celebrates schools and districts that make a significant commitment to welcome and support military families.

“My children moved every year they were in high school,” Executive Director for Fort Gordon Alliance Dr. Tom Clark told NewsChannel 6’s Shawn Cabbagestalk. “We were a country at war and they went to military funerals so they have scar tissue on their hearts, too, just like service-members,” he added.

“It’s a lot of work, it takes a lot of commitment from leadership to say that we want to go to this level,” State Superintendent Molly Spearman said.

Top leaders in education in South Carolina announced the new designation at a news conference Thursday afternoon. Aiken County Public School District and North Augusta High School were celebrated as the state’s first district and school to receive the honor.

“South Carolina is blessed to be the home of major military bases and thousands of military men and women who protect our freedoms through their service,” Superintendent Spearman added.

“Mileage has nothing to do with parents deciding to go to a quality school. So the number one reason why folks move is because of great school districts and Aiken has a great school district. So I see no issue with them driving a couple more miles and living a little farther because they have a welcoming school committee here,” Dr. Clark added.

There are several things schools and districts must have in order to be designated as a purple star school.

  • The school must have a staff point of contact for military students and families who serves as the primary liaison between them and the school.
  • The school maintains a dedicated page on its website featuring resources for military families.

“So we like the opportunity particularly as it relates to military-connected students to give them a hand, show them that someone cares and that this is a place that we want them to be,” Superintendent of Aiken County Schools Dr. Sean Alford said.

Ambassadors are also a part of the program to help welcome military students into the community. We spoke with one of them on why it was important for him to help out with the program.”When I was nine, I moved from Puerto Rico to South Carolina and I came not knowing anyone just lost not knowing anything about the language. When I read about it, I didn’t want anyone to go through all the problems that I did. So I decided I was going to do it to help out all of the students who are coming through,” Emil Ayala said.

State Superintendent Molly Spearman says that this is a win-win for not only military families in the area but non-military families — too.

“I think military children because they have to move more, they are faced with even more emotional issues as they’re transferring in the schools. So this will be a good thing that will benefit the military schools but I’m sure our regular families will benefit as well,” Spearman added.

Also to be a part of that purple star designation, school leaders are agreeing to military-student exceptions to enrollment periods for sports and other extracurricular activities, and school staff training.

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