NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WVEC) — It’s no secret that Virginia has the highest number of military families in one state, compared to the rest of the country. Those service members and their families move far and often, which can take a toll on students.

So for the first time ever, the Virginia Department of Education now has a way to recognize the schools in the state that are going above and beyond to support the students of service members.

This award is a recognition from the Department of Education, called the Purple Star Award.

Virginia Department of Education’s Military Student and Family Specialist, Daniel Dunham said, “It should be important to every school division to make sure that they’re doing what they can to support military students.”

This year is the first year for the department to give the award, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Newport News is the first of three private schools to receive it. One-third of the students at the school belong to military families.

To qualify for a Purple Star, schools must train staff members so there’s a point of contact for military families and students. The liaisons between the families and military community will provide resources and programming for topics important to the families, like transitioning to a new school and academic planning.

“It was an effort worth doing,” said Kathy McKenna, the Military liaison for Lady Mount Carmel. “There are a lot of schools in Virginia, so I think it’s pretty big. So, I’m pretty excited about it.”

The schools that earn the title get a commemorative coin to display at the school and are added to a list of Purple Star schools on the VDOE Families website.

Each school with the award will hold onto the title for three years before they must reapply.

The work that’s being done is more than just an award. It’s a lift for military families who move a lot, like Army parent Ryan King.

“We’ve moved 14 times in 22 years,” said King. “We were coming from Kansas, so you know it’s a big change and they really made it easy by talking to us.”

Erin Cluff and her husband are both active duty, but her son who attends the school gives a thumb up to the idea with all of the support at the school he’s received. “It’s fun having my parents in the military.”

Cluff, who currently serves in the Air Force, said, “We appreciate all of the efforts that the school has gone to, to be able to make the transition for our family a little bit easier.”

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