WATCH | Hot Springs School District is named a Purple Star School

Little Rock Air Force Base School Liaison Terri Williams, left, talks about the Arkansas Purple Star School program at Tuesday's monthly Hot Springs School Board meeting inside the Roy Rowe Educational Auditorium. (The Sentinel-Record/Brandon Smith)
Little Rock Air Force Base School Liaison Terri Williams, left, talks about the Arkansas Purple Star School program at Tuesday's monthly Hot Springs School Board meeting inside the Roy Rowe Educational Auditorium. (The Sentinel-Record/Brandon Smith)

The Hot Springs School District on Tuesday was presented the Arkansas Purple Star School Award for its response to the educational and social-emotional challenges local military-connected students face in their transition process.

Operated by the Arkansas Council for Military Children in cooperation with the Arkansas Department of Education, the Arkansas Purple Star School program recognizes schools that show a major commitment to serving students and families connected to the U.S. armed forces. Awardees receive a special Purple Star recognition to display in their building and are recognized on the ADE Division of Elementary and Secondary Education website.

According to ADE's website, Hot Springs joins Lakeside School District in Garland County as one of only 19 districts in the state to receive the award.

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Terri Williams, Little Rock Air Force Base school liaison program manager, presented the award at Tuesday night's monthly school board meeting. She said her job is to ensure that military families, when they are traveling into the state, have "an easy transition with their military scholars into the school districts while they're here, the entire time they're here, and then out to their next state wherever they're going."

As military children face such issues as gaps or overlaps in curriculum, varying graduation requirements, and course placement disruption, the program is also designed to help students remain on track to be college, workforce and life-ready.

The district will designate a school military liaison -- a counselor, administrator, teacher, or another staff member -- who will serve as a point of contact for military-connected students and families.

In addition to receiving ongoing professional development, the SML identifies and informs teachers of the students and the special considerations they should receive.

"My job is to help the school districts understand those military stressors that the children face," Williams said. "Because the world is crazy today and it's not as easy as 'just up and moving.'"

Williams herself was a military child, as well as her children, and now some of her grandchildren, she noted.

"I just love making sure that these kiddos have a great transition in between their parents' jobs. It's not their fault, but they have to move back and forth. They weren't asked, they're still not asked, and they're not going to be asked the next time either," she said.

She said there are around 13,000 military students in the state and that most of them move six to nine times in their 12 years in school.

"I even moved three times in my fifth grade year -- three different states -- and so that is why I can get up and speak to you guys," she said when presenting the award.

"Becoming a Purple Star School means that all of the teachers at the school district, everybody has made that extra sacrifice to go through and listen to me do trainings to tell them, 'Hey, this is what these kiddos need.' This is not an Arkansas Department of Education thing. It's not a requirement; it is something that the school district has chosen to do because (Hot Springs School District) has a lot of military children here," she said.

Students and staff at a Purple Star School, she noted, put forth the extra effort to acclimate incoming military students, acting as sort of ambassadors. She said these duties can be as simple as showing the students where the cafeteria is, or other parts of the school.

"If they're in elementary school, playing on the playground, and they don't know who to play with, that (student) has a sponsor," she said. "Those military kiddos don't do that, they just go in there. There's a whole big building full of people.

"So the school district has made it a focus to concentrate and say, 'Hey, would you like to be Timmy's sponsor when he gets here?' ... Who's going to have lunch with them? Who's going to play and sit out on the playground with them? Who's going to do all those little bitty things?"

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