FLEMING ISLAND – When House Bill 429 was established by the Florida Legislature, it was to recognize schools that support the unique needs of military families. This year, Fleming Island Elementary …
FLEMING ISLAND – When House Bill 429 was established by the Florida Legislature, it was to recognize schools that support the unique needs of military families. This year, Fleming Island Elementary became the only school in Clay County to earn the honorable distinction.
On Jan. 13, the school commemorated the honor with a special flag-raising event and recognized its Purple Star School of Distinction status.
Students, officials and the community – many dressed in purple – were invited to the school courtyard.
Dark clouds provided an ominous start to the presentation, but the skies started to clear following the presentation of colors by the Fleming Island High NJROTC and the elementary school’s chorus singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“The sun came out. Maybe it was divine intervention, or maybe you just don’t mess with the U.S. Armed Forces,” said David Broskie, Clay County Superintendent of Schools.
Broskie and NAS Jacksonville Command Master Chief Shane R. Edwards joined Principal Jennifer Collins and each shared words of appreciation about the strongly-established military-connected programs for families and students.
“Each one of those people that comes to NAS Jacksonville has a family. They have little ones, they have husbands, and they have wives, and they have a lot of people that are deploying. What you have done here at Fleming Island is awesome, especially being the first in Clay County. Thank you for being leaders,” Edwards said.
“Freedom isn’t for free. It requires great costs. It requires people to sacrifice in many ways, and some of those sacrifices that occur affect the families of those that serve,” Broskie added.
Earning the honorable distinction didn’t come without a lot of hard work from students, faculty and staff, all of who played a major part in helping the school earn the honor.
To meet the requirements, a myriad of tasks were required for completion, Collins said during her speech.
This process included teacher training, establishing a transition program for new students moving to the school called Anchored For Life and hosting several events for military holidays, including Veterans' Day, Memorial Day, Month of the Military Child in April and Purple Up Day.
Another stipulation in the long-ranging list of requirements to earn Purple Heart School of Distinction status is that at least 5% of the school’s open enrollment seats must be reserved for military students as defined by state statute. Professional development and training are offered to staff, and students provide a friendly, welcoming face and lead campus tours to military students in Anchored For Life, which is a student-led program.
But that’s not all.
Military and Family Life Counselor, Darby Palmer, a military spouse for 25 years and licensed counselor for more than 20 years, is a full-time employee who serves as a liaison between the school and military families. Palmer provides individual support for students and families and puts on activities such as Lunch Bunches.
The crucial role she played was also key in helping Fleming Island earn the distinction.
Support for U.S. troops has been established as a strong part of the school's culture, a fact that is proudly displayed in the halls of the elementary. A public display at the front office recognizes service members, veterans and military students.
Military traditions are simply part of the school’s lifeblood.
When a child’s family member is about to be deployed, the school hosts a yellow ribbon ceremony. All students from the child’s class are invited to watch as a commemorative ribbon is tied around a tree.
When the child’s parent returns home, the ribbon is then removed.
“When the (parent) comes home, it’s a celebration. It’s very moving, very emotional,” Collins said.