Jacksonville, FL

Clay County schools recognize military families, offer support

Zoey Fields

April is the Month of the Military Child, and Clay County District School staff and students celebrated military-connected students and their families on Thursday, April 21, by wearing purple as a show of support.

The month of April is designated by the Department of Defense Education Activity to underscore the role military children play in the armed forces community, the DoDEA’s website said.

Throughout the month, schools are encouraged to plan special events to honor military children and have administrators and principals incorporate the month’s themes into their everyday routines.

Purple Day is a way Clay County District Schools celebrated the recognition of the military child. Purple indicates that all branches of the military are supported. Students could also wear colors to represent a specific military branch; Air Force blue, Army green, Navy blue, Marine red and Coast Guard blue.

Fleming Island Elementary student artwork recognizing and appreciating military-connected families.Clay County District Schools

The combination of these colors, collectively, makes purple encompassing the support of all branches. Clay County District School students also created art and wrote notes to support the county’s military families.

The Military Child Education Coalition provides additional resources for parents, students and administrators about how to support the military child through education, advocation and collaboration to resolve education challenges associated with the military lifestyle. More information can be found at the MCEC website.

In addition to celebrating the Month of the Military Child, Orange Park High School houses a Military Family Resource Center on the west campus of the school. The all-in-one resource center opened April 20, 2017, as a way to support arriving and existing military families.

Parents in the military have access to resources that help them navigate the school system and other issues affecting their children such as moving and transitions with deployments.

“What we want to do here is have one place where they [military families] can come in when they are transitioning in or out,” Kathy Schofield, CCDS STEM and Military Family Support supervisor said, when the center opened.

The Naval Air Station Jacksonville is the largest Navy base in the Southeast Region, and third largest in the nation – contributing to the high volume of military-connected families in the district.

"The population of Clay County District Schools' military-connected students has averaged between 12-14% of our total student population for the last four years," Clay County District Schools Coordinator of Communications and Media Partnerships, Laura Christmas, said. "We work in conjunction with the School Liaison Officer at the local bases to support students and their families as they transition in and out of our district."

In addition to the Naval Air Station, Jacksonville is home to four other military facilities – Jacksonville Barracks, Mayport Naval Station, Mayport US 322 Naval Station and NAS JAX Base.

An average of 2,600 to 3,000 children of active-duty military personnel are enrolled in Clay County schools annually, she said. It fluctuates depending on deployments involving personnel based at Northeast Florida military facilities.

Clay County District School doors are decorated during April, the Month of the Military ChildClay County District Schools

“They can come in there and instantly know where the enrollment room is and what community might best suit their needs so that we can direct them and help them choose the best school,” Schofield said. “The center will consolidate and enhance what the district has offered in the past.”

With Clay County having such a strong military presence in the community, the Clay County District Schools have incorporated specific counseling for families and students that are military-connected. A “military-connected” family is not limited to parental figures in the branches, but siblings and guardians as well, Clay County District Schools Military Support Specialist Trish Hunter said.

Hunter worked as a guidance counselor at Oakleaf High School before applying for the position of Military Support Specialist approximately nine years ago, she said. The position became available when Clay County District Schools received a state grant intended to improve military installations and resource options in the schools.

The grant funds have since stopped, but Hunter remains working with students and families that are military-connected; providing them with resources, contact information and mental health services, she said.

“Since the grant has ended, I no longer work specifically with military-related students, but I get called for those situations at any of the Clay schools because they know my expertise with those resources and that language,” she said.

Hunter’s office is located at Oakleaf High School, but she serves the entire Clay County District Schools as a mental health counselor and Military Support Specialist.

“We have a great reputation with our military families and it has been such a blessing to be able to continue working with them due to this position,” she said.

For families needing to be connected to military services, visit the Military Support Office, 23 Green St. South, Green Cove Springs, or call 904-336-8375.

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Accredited journalist with experience covering a wide range of stories consisting of breaking news, city and county government, crime and courts, feature stories and local interest. Facebook Bulletin writer, reporter; The Learning Curve. Twitter: @zoeyfields0

Jacksonville, FL

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