Purple Star program lets Florida Catholic schools nurture military families
BY LISA BUIE
It’s tough being the new kid in school. It’s even tougher being the new kid every two to three years.
That’s the norm for 1.2 million United States children born into military families. According to the Military Child Education Coalition, military-connected children move six to nine times between kindergarten and high school graduation.
Florida lawmakers recognized the stress such transitions can create and in 2021 passed HB 439 with bipartisan support to establish a Purple Star Schools of Distinction program in the Sunshine State.
The law grants schools that meet certain criteria to be military-friendly the designation of Purple Star Schools of Distinction. The program is open to public schools as well as private schools that accept state K-12 education choice scholarships. (Step Up For Students, which hosts this blog, is the state’s largest administrator of state education choice scholarships, which allow automatic eligibility for dependents of active-duty military members.) So far, 121 schools across the state have earned the designation, including two private schools: Sacred Heart Catholic School in Jacksonville and St. John the Evangelist Catholic School in Pensacola.
Both schools are located close to military bases; Jacksonville boasts the third-largest military presence in the United States.
“We’ve always had a long history or supporting military families and the students who have been enrolled,” said Sacred Heart Principal Archie Yumul, who earned a medical degree before deciding in 2005 to trade the world of genetic research for a career in teaching, and later, school administration. His school is about three miles from the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, so “it seemed like a good fit that we would apply for the Purple Star School designation because of our relationship with the military.”
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