An estimated 35 percent of enrollment in Camden County schools is from military families, creating unique challenges for educators and students.
Students sometimes struggle with the relocations that come with being in a military family, or the disappointment of missing an important holiday or family event when a family member is at sea, or the separation anxiety when a close family member has to leave because duty calls.
The Georgia Department of Education began recognizing schools that have implemented programs to help military students deal with the many issues other children don’t have to deal with in public schools.
This year, St. Marys Elementary is among seven schools designated a Military Flagship School Award winner.
School principal Robert Narvell credited his staff for helping earn the honor.
“The faculty and staff at St. Marys Elementary School hold our military ties close to our hearts,” he said. “Understanding what our military families endure each day, from deployments to the ever-possible relocation, military life is not for the feint of heart.”
Narvell said the partnership between the school and Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay helps to meet the needs of students who are connected with military life.
Clainetto Jefferson, the school liaison office at Kings Bay, works with educators in Camden, Glynn, Charlton, Ware and Brantley counties in Georgia, as well as the schools in Nassau County, Fla., to help them recognize the needs of military children and the nature of work performed by their parents.
She said the award, in its second year, is a big deal. Last year, Crooked River Elementary in St. Marys won the award.
“We’re celebrating the comprehensive way they support children,” Jefferson said. “We want teachers to feel they have the love.”
In Camden County, every school has military and family counselors to help youth deal with most issues. The typical problems exhibited by military children when they are struggling are lower grades and attendance and attitude issues.
One way new students are helped to transition into Camden County schools is through a connections club at every school that assigns someone from the same age and grade to act as a buddy for the first few weeks. The buddy shows the new student around the campus, introduces him or her to teachers and friends, and even eats lunch with the new classmate for the first several weeks.
The role of the spouse is especially important because of the frequency sailors deploy from Kings Bay. Sailors serving on the boats at Kings Bay are typically at sea for about two and a half months, return home for three months, then go back to sea in a cycle that repeats as long as they are assigned to one of the submarines.
“The spouse sets the tempo how the family handles deployment,” Jefferson said. “We want them to be successful.”