Every Nov. 11, Americans come together in communities across the United States to honor the sacrifices made by veterans in service to their country, but often forgotten are the sacrifices made by the families of veterans, especially the children.
To ensure military youth enrolled in the Olentangy Local School District don’t suffer in silence with the unique issues they face on a daily basis, a group of district staff has joined forces with community members and military personnel to form the Olentangy Military Family Committee (OMFC).
The newly formed committee, which has over 60 members and counting, was the brainchild of Liberty Middle School guidance counselor Jason Durell, a Marine Corps Reserve veteran and active member of the Ohio Army National Guard.
Durell said the committee had been in the making for a few years, and the idea was born three or four years ago during a chance encounter with a student who was struggling with the fact her mother was in the Army and had to leave for months at a time.
“A lot goes on when a child finds out their parent will be gone for a period of time,” Durell said. “There are definitely some distractions and anxiety these students face that is unique to military families.”
The student he met several years back, Durell recalled, felt as if she was the only student experiencing the struggle until he was able to show her she wasn’t alone by putting her in touch with other students like herself.
“The single most powerful tool is connecting families,” Durell said. “It’s also important to normalize these feelings felt by military youth and let them know it’s okay to feel the way they do.”
He added a prevalent issue military youth face is adapting to a new routine once a parent is deployed.
Routine changes, Durell said, can lead to “grades suffering” and a lot of “anxiety” for those involved in extracurricular activities who need to be places at specific times.
The OMFC was formed at the start of the 2017-2018 school year as a way to bring like-minded teachers, principals, military personnel, and community members together “to make sure our military families are taken care of,” Durell said.
To achieve this, the committee has compiled a detailed list of resources available locally and at the state level for any and all possible issues military youth, many of whom will attend over a handful of different schools between their K-12 years, and their families may face.
One of the biggest issues, Durell said, is transitioning from school to school, which he said the state addresses through its involvement in the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3).
According to the Ohio Department of Education’s website, MIC3 works to “ensure that military children are properly enrolled in schools, have eligibility for school activities, and have assistance in meeting graduation requirements.”
Locally, the OMFC is committed to helping military families any way it can.
“We have no blueprint to follow, so we can make it up and tweak it as community needs it,” Durell said. “We are trying to go the extra mile and be a listening ear.”
What Durell and the committee have implemented district-wide thus far seems to be paying off.
Durell said the military youth he’s spoken with recently have become “more comfortable” when it comes to sharing their issues with him, and many seem to be “more at ease with being part of a group (military children) they didn’t choose to be in.”
Durell added he considers these developments steps in the right direction since the military culture, which he has been part of for quite sometime, tends to be “very self-sufficient” and “not always the first to ask for help.”
He’s hopeful through various resources and groups like the OMFC, the act of asking for help will become “less taboo or underground” for military families.
Durell has a message for military parents and their children: “Please don’t feel like you can’t ask for help. We have people who understand your situation. Don’t suffer in silence.”
As for how many military families reside within the OLSD, Durell said, that’s the “holy grail” since military families aren’t required to identify.
“Identifying (military-connected students) is the toughest obstacle right now,” Durell said, adding he understands many of these students “don’t want to be singled out.”
The committee, he added, estimates there could be anywhere from 100 to 500 military families living in the Olentangy district.
For its commitment to helping students from military families overcome the issues they face, the Ohio Department of Education recently named Liberty Middle School one of the first eight recipients of the newly established Purple Star Award, which will be formally presented to the school during a ceremony on Dec. 5.
Contact Joshua Keeran at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @KeeranGazette.