Sumter School District earns Purple Star designation in support of military families

Sumter School District becomes Purple Star District in support of military families

SUMTER, S.C. (WIS) - For active-duty military members, deployments and relocations are part of the job.

However, for some military families dealing with the stresses of this, one school district is taking extra steps to make sure the students are taken care of.

The Sumter School District became a Purple Star School District this week. The Purple Star designation is given by the South Carolina Department of Education to school districts that make a significant contribution to supporting military families.

“There’s a lot of anxiety that comes along with a PCS move, especially when you have young children,” Mark Gillard, the Sumter School District Military Community liaison, said. “Not only are you thinking about the mission and what you have to do as a job, but you’ve got to make sure that your family is settled. All that anxiety that comes with it. We try to take as much of that anxiety that relates to education off the table.”

Kristy Schmitt, a Marine Corps veteran and a Sumter School District parent, said moving schools is one of the most stressful parts for military families relocating.

“You wonder what it’s going to be like for them starting a new school the first time,” Schmitt said. “Meeting new friends, if they are going to get along, if the counselors are going to be right, if the teachers are going to be right, knowing if everything is going to go well for them.”

Schmitt served in the Marine Corps for 18 years, and her husband is currently serving. Their 4-year-old and 6-year-old moved to the Sumter School District last year when their family relocated.

“Having a 6-year-old, sometimes it’s hard on kids to cope with military transfers,” Schmitt said.

However, she said the Sumter School District has made it an easy transition. As a Purple Star District, Sumter schools have a liaison for military families, as well as counselors trained to help with relocations, deployment, and loss.

“It’s great for those guidance counselors to know the triggers and how to actually deal with it,” Gillard said.

Gillard added, as someone who served 21 years in the Air Force and is a parent as well, he gets it.

“I think it’s like a checkbox in your head that you’re saying, ‘Well, before I can get focused on the mission that the Air Force sent me here to do, I’ve first got to make sure my home front is settled,’” Gillard said.

They also have a student ambassador program, a military family school website, and programs that help students join clubs and sports if they transfer after tryouts.

“All of that’s important to a lot of our kids who are trying to accomplish something in the future,” Schmitt said.

School officials said it’s just one way to thank families for their service.

“The least we can do is to make sure they understand that when we transition our children into Sumter School District, they are taken care of,” Sumter School District Superintendent Dr. Penelope Martin-Knox said.

Sumter School District is the fourth school district to be awarded the Purple Star designation from the Department of Education. Richland School District Two, Kershaw County, and Aiken County have also been named Purple Star school districts.

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