Luke, West Valley schools share commitment to military children’s education

  • Published
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

One of the unique challenges for military families includes finding the right school district for their individual needs each time they relocate. Local school district superintendents met with base leadership August 30, 2023, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, to discuss ways to work together to make these transitions easier for military families.

“We can bring educators to the base for discussion and tours to really understand the lives that military children have,” said Brig. Gen. Jason Rueschhoff, 56th Fighter Wing commander. “Laying eyes on a situation is important. Just talking about it is one thing, but you have to be able to really see all the variables.”

The meeting included a roundtable discussion on topics including relocation, adapting to new schools, and other unique obstacles military children may encounter, some of which might be eased by programs like the Purple Star initiative.

The Purple Star School initiative is designed to help schools respond to the educational and social-emotional challenges military-connected children face during their transition to a new school and to keep them on track to be college, workforce, and life-ready. To be designated a Purple Star School, schools must meet several criteria that assist students whose parents are military members and other highly mobile students. These criteria include allowing dedicated transition centers, appointing military liaisons with an understanding of military life at schools, and providing professional development for educators through training on transitional challenges students may face.

Arizona is one of seven states with no current programs or legislation allowing schools to receive the Purple Star Designation. Missy Rueschhoff, Luke Air Force Base Key Spouse Mentor and Arizona attorney and Joanne Osborne, Former Arizona Representative, are collaborating with Agua Fria, Litchfield, Great Hearts Academy, and Dysart School Districts to launch a pilot program for Purple Star Certification in Arizona. "We’re talking about military children, but this will benefit all children," said Former Representative Joanne Osborne. Simultaneously with launching this initiative in school districts adjacent to Luke Air Force Base, Ms. Rueschhoff and Ms. Osborne are in an ongoing dialoged to educate Arizona Civic Leaders on the benefits of the Purple Star Certification.

Partnerships with local school systems are enabled by the Luke AFB School Liaison Program. The SLP is a student focused, partnership driven program oriented towards assisting total force-connected and highly mobile students and their families through advocacy, resources, readiness, and navigating local schools.

“The School Liaison Program Manager serves as the central contact between commanders, families, and local schools,” said Maj. Maria Berardo, 56th Force Support Squadron commander. “The desired outcome from this program is enhanced community engagement and development where total force-connected students attending local schools are met with educators and resources ready to support their needs while providing a positive, welcoming experience during their time at Luke AFB.”

Through community partnerships, the School Liaison ensures compliance with the military interstate compact and provides professional development to educators with tools to support the unique experiences total force-connected students face with frequent relocations and parents who may deploy.

“Military families come from all walks of life,” said Mark Yslas, Aqua Fria Union High School District superintendent. “Different cultures and different places. This can benefit all.”

Community partnerships with local educators can aid in addressing the educational concerns of service members and their families, creating an environment of support in which children can thrive.

These discussions align with the 56th Fighter Wing’s line of effort to advance quality of life and the Department of Defense’s priority to taking care of service members and their families.