FORT WALTON BEACH, FLORIDA — Speaking at a press conference at Fort Walton Beach High School on Tuesday, Governor DeSantis highlighted some of the challenges facing military families – including frequent relocation and how this can impact children who in some cases may have to move across the country and change schools up to nine times when a parent or both parents are serving.
The governor explained that the Sunshine State has launched multiple initiatives to support military families. Okaloosa County, where Fort Walton Beach is located, has the highest rate of military student enrollment out of all counties in Florida.
“Last year, we worked with the Legislature and I signed legislation that would establish what we call the Purple Star Campus Program. This program recognizes schools that go above and beyond to help children of military families to succeed,” DeSantis said, as he stood surrounded by students and staff.
MUST MEET CRITERIA
There are a number of criteria that a school has to meet to be recognized as a Purple Star school, among them having a designated faculty contact for military families. The school must also have programs that pair military children with other students to help them transition to the school community and engage in school activities.
Under the program, five percent of open enrollment seats for schools must be reserved for military children, and there must be opportunities available for special training of teachers in order to meet the needs of students from military families.
“I’m happy to announce today that 35 schools in Okaloosa County will now be designated as Purple Star schools,” the newly re-elected governor said.
“NOW SHE’S THRIVING”
Army combat veteran and parent Jesus Barrio spoke warmly of the experience he and his family had when transferring to Florida from Minot, North Dakota. Barrio said that his daughter received great support at Fort Walton Beach High School:
“When we got here to this school, she was sad, she didn’t have any friends. The guidance counselor, Ms. Davis – the guidance counselor for the military – she came over and she actually introduced my daughter to other friends. And then she started getting better, adding friends and stuff. Because of this support, to be able to make friends, now she’s thriving,” Barrio emphasized.
Governor DeSantis also provided an update on the teacher fast-track program for veterans that was introduced in August, saying that 495 former active duty personnel have applied. “I think you’ll be very impressed with the quality of the individuals who are coming,” he said.