An Olentangy school's efforts to aid military families have earned it a new award from the Ohio Department of Education.
The department announced last week Liberty Middle School was one of eight schools in the state to earn the Purple Star Award. The ODE created the honor to recognize "military-friendly" buildings, according to its news release.
"A supportive school environment can have a significant impact on our military-connected students," said Paolo DeMaria, state superintendent of public instruction, in a statement. "These Purple Star schools provide our children and families with the resources they need to be successful. We're thankful for their service and honored to continue the important work of improving services for Ohio's military families."
Jason Durell, a counselor who serves as a liaison for military families at Liberty Middle School, said the award is "a reflection of our school."
"It's kind of an affirmation for our teachers in our building that we really are looking out or military families," he said.
Durell, a sergeant in the Army National Guard and a U.S. Marine Corp veteran, helped establish the Olentangy Military Families Committee, a group that meets in person and via email to help connect families of service members with existing resources.
Durell said he made outreach to military families one of his goals a few years back after speaking to the family of a student who was feeling distracted and disconnected from other students because of her parent's service.
Durell said part of the challenge of assisting students from military families involves identifying them. He said district officials and teachers are not necessarily notified when a student's parent is serving, and military families can be hesitant to ask for help.
"It's just a unique population because it's a very self-sufficient group," he said.
According to the Ohio Department of Education, 34,000 children in the state have at least one parent who serves in the military.
The point of the Military Families Committee, Durell said, is to make sure those students and parents can find available resources, even if those resources are simply teachers or other staff members who have served and can offer advice.
Durell said he hopes Liberty Middle School's award leads to greater awareness of how military service can affect families and students among teachers throughout the district.
"Education is power," he said. "The more you know about things, the more you can help out."
Purple Star Award schools keep their designation for two years, after which they must reapply for the honor.
Durell said it's his hope additional buildings in the district earn the Purple Star Award. He said his efforts to expand outreach to military families have been welcomed by Superintendent Mark Raiff and administrators throughout the district.
"Every principal I've ever talked to has been supportive," he said.