Maine honored for service to military students

Following the horrific attacks of Sept. 11 now 13 years ago, many Mainers stepped up to serve our country and the cause of freedom around the world. Their children are unsung heroes who face frequent moves, the absence of a beloved mom and/or dad during long deployments and daily uncertainty.

Those realities make the supports our schools can provide these special students all the more important. Today, I am proud to announce that our state has been nationally recognized for our above and beyond efforts to do just that.

In a recent ceremony in Washington, D.C., a collaboration between the Maine DOE, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the Kittery School Department, the Rotary Club of Kittery and the Maine Military Interstate Compact Council (MIC3) was honored with the Pete Taylor Partnership of Excellence Award from the Military Child Education Coalition. The award, one of only five given out this year to partnerships that serve K-12 students, was presented by Pentagon Director of the Joint Staff Lieutenant General David L. Goldfein.

The Maine entities honored work together at the local and State levels to provide a “seamless system of support” for hundreds of military-connected children and their families, wrote former Portsmouth Naval Shipyard School Liaison Officer Maryann Minard in her nomination.

In Kittery, the local partners support a Back to School Blast held annually at the shipyard for military families to connect with school and community officials and resources; a Student 2 Student program that brings together military students and their peers through service learning; in-school orientations for new military-connected students and events that recognize and honor military members; and extensive trainings for educators. The Kittery School Department even has a special section on its website devoted entirely to military families.

Those local efforts are “enhanced by Maine’s statewide commitment to meeting the needs of military children and their families,” wrote Minard, specifically citing the leadership of First Lady Ann LePage, the Maine DOE and MIC3,  which I am honored to chair.

In 2012, the First Lady convened a task force at the Blaine House to examine ways to inform and engage Mainers about the needs of military-connected children, and a follow-up conference brought together nearly 100 education, business, faith, community and legislative leaders to create an action plan to serve those students. The work of MIC3 is aligned with the priorities of that plan.

One major initiative implemented in Maine as a result is a requirement put in place and administered by our Department that all schools adopt a military identifier. Collected at the local level through student information packets given out to parents at the start of each school year, the opt-in identifier lets local and Department officials know a student is a member of a military family so supports can be proactively provided. As a reminder to Maine district leaders, the first reporting of this identifier is expected next month as part of the October uploads to Infinite Campus. A 2011 estimate from the Department of Defense indicated there were approximately 6,500 military-dependent children in Maine, and the data reported this fall will give us a current and more accurate count.

Beyond congratulating our partners in excellence, I’d like to recognize Randy Kassa, our Department’s military family education liaison, for coordinating the implementation of the identifier. And, I want to thank Maine schools for continuing to uphold their responsibilities to military-connected students. Whether it is enrolling them quickly and in comparable courses or giving them extended excused absences to spend time with parents leaving or returning from deployment, military students know Maine schools will do everything we can to be sensitive and supportive of their unique needs and keep them on track to graduate on time.

For more information about protections and resources available to support military students in Maine or for technical assistance related to the military identifier, visit the “Military Families” section of the Department’s website or contact Maine DOE Military Family Education Liaison Randy Kassa at randy.kassa@maine.gov or 624-6776.