Skip to main content

The Purple Star Designation: Supporting Military Families in Education

Jun 19, 2024 08:36PM ● By Amanda Danaher

When now retired Air Force Colonel Patrick Weir, his wife Carrie, and their two children first moved to Stafford, VA, in July 2020, they felt a significant disconnect from the life they once knew on base.

“After living on a base, being surrounded by others who were going through the same type of triumphs and struggles, we constantly felt a feeling of a warm, fuzzy hug,” Carrie reflects. “It became more and more difficult to wrap our heads around a lifestyle that we had rarely known [now off base].”

Military families like the Weirs often face unique challenges when relocating, and the impact those challenges have on their children's lives is no exception, especially when it comes to their education. But there is one remarkable initiative that is transforming the educational experience for military families in Virginia - the Virginia Purple Star Designation program. This distinction, awarded by the Virginia Department of Education since 2018, certifies schools as military-friendly.

According to the website, schools receive the Purple Star designation once they meet certain criteria. For instance, all school staff must undergo training to understand the unique challenges and needs of their military-connected students. The schools also must establish partnerships with local military organizations and community resources, as well as offer counseling services, transition support, and academic resources specifically designed to support military-connected students. In addition, schools must aim to keep military families informed and involved in school activities and decisions. The Purple Star designation is valid for three years, after which schools must reapply to remain active.

Sandra Osborn, chief communications officer for Stafford County Public Schools, explains that this support is crucial in Stafford County, which is home to several military bases and facilities like Quantico and Dahlgren.

“We recognize the challenges that come with being a military family,” says Osborn. “We're giving military children every opportunity that every other student in the school division has.”

The Purple Star program is an important resource for students and their families with military ties. Without it, many military families can feel misunderstood, which the Weir family experienced firsthand.

“[The] school and community were not versed in a military background,” says Carrie. “Trying to become part of a community that lives in a different way is challenging. You try so hard to live each day to the fullest and yet there is always something missing.”

Her children, Will, 10, and Klarissa, 14, now attend Margaret Brent Elementary School and Mountain View High School, respectively, in Stafford County. Since both schools have received the Virginia Purple Star designation, Carrie notes a significant increase in support from not only the school staff but also the community.

“It was as if a light bulb came on…Not only was there just the basic information out there, but also information about social and emotional well-being and how to connect the two,” says Carrie.

Penny Rowley, school liaison officer at Marine Corps Base Quantico, says the program is a pivotal piece in welcoming and supporting military families during transitions.

“[The program] provides military families with welcome packets of information about the school and opportunities available to get involved as well as opportunities to say their farewells upon getting orders to new duty stations before leaving,” Rowley says.

North Stafford High School, one of Stafford County’s Purple Star designated schools, has implemented various initiatives to support their military-connected students, especially during April, the “Month of the Military Child.” The school coordinated a tree mural where all students were encouraged to make a purple “thumbs up" print in support of their military-connected peers. Additionally, the school has hosted events like a popsicle party or “Purple Love” events for military-connected students to celebrate their sacrifices and help them build a sense of community.

“The point is to have that school, to family, to community connection, and making sure that families feel safe to come to the school and talk to us about [their military connection], so that we can connect them to resources within our community,” says Suzanna Erlichman, school counselor and one of the program's points-of-contact at the high school.

Osborn further highlights district-wide efforts to engage with military families, such as the “Purple Up” day, where everyone in the school district is encouraged to wear purple in support of military-connected children.

The Purple Star designation has already made an impact on schools like North Stafford High. Initially, the high school only identified 62 military-connected students, which Erlichman knew was inaccurate for the area. However, after actively promoting the program, the school now has identified 174 students, with more still to come. 

Yet even with these victories, one of the key challenges faced by these schools is identifying these students. Erlichman explains that many families may not realize they qualify or may not disclose their status all together. To address this, many schools have implemented outreach efforts, including targeted emails and newsletters, to ensure families are aware of the support available to them.

Osborn encourages parents of military-connected students to contact their school’s administration to identify their children, so that they can access the available resources and community support.

“We want to hit everybody...military-connected doesn't just mean Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, or Space Force,” adds Osborn. “It's also DOD, the State Department, the FBI, all of these federally-connected, transitionary folks. We want to support you guys, too."

When asked why the Purple Star designation is so pivotal to military families, Carrie replies, “Military children are strong and resilient…We must help those younger to strive in new lands, positively embrace new adventures, and aid in making new friends along their journey.”

To see if your school is a Virginia Purple Star honoree, visit

Get Our Newsletters
* indicates required
FredParent eletters
Read Our Digital Issue
From Our Partners