Maine partnership receives national honor for serving military-connected children

A new military identifier implemented by the Maine Department of Education this fall will help local and State officials know which students are in military families so supports can be provided

AUGUSTA – A local partnership enhanced by the statewide efforts of Maine’s First Lady Ann LePage and the Maine Department of Education has been nationally recognized for serving students whose parents are in the military.

In a recent ceremony in Washington, D.C., ongoing 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 to the Maine contingent by Pentagon Director of the Joint Staff Lieutenant General David L. Goldfein.

“Military children make incredible sacrifices. Their parents honorably serve our nation, and it is important that our schools and our state serve them,” said Governor Paul R. LePage, who like his wife, Ann, is a passionate advocate for Maine’s veterans and military families.  “I applaud this local-state partnership for putting these unsung student heroes first and giving them the supports they need to be successful in Maine schools.”

A 2011 estimate from the Department of Defense indicated there were approximately 6,500 military-dependent children in Maine, with the greatest concentration in Kittery.

The entities honored work together at the local and State levels to provide a “seamless system of support” for those 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 so they can best understand and support their military students.

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 LePage, the Maine DOE and MIC3,  which is chaired by Maine Education Commissioner Jim Rier.

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 the Maine DOE that all schools in the state adopt a military identifier. Collected at the local level starting this fall, the opt-in identifier lets local and state education officials know a student is a member of a military family so supports can be proactively provided.

Military family advocates have lauded the inclusion of the identifier, which helped the Maine partnership secure the national award, and others states have since approached the Department about following suit.

Commissioner Rier said the frequent and sometimes sudden moves military life necessities make it all the more important Maine schools know if their students are connected to the military.

“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 should know our schools here in Maine will do everything we can to be sensitive and supportive of their unique needs and keep them on track to graduate on time,” the Commissioner said.

The Pete Taylor Partnership of Excellence Award was created in 2004 to recognize the work of former Military Child Education Coalition Chairman Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Pete Taylor in supporting the highly mobile military child through local partnerships between military installations and school districts.

“MCEC’s Pete Taylor award was very meaningful to Maine because it reflects the commitment of the local and state communities in supporting our military-connected children, as well as the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard’s strong programs of outreach and assistance that benefit our students,” Minard said.

For more information about protections and resources available to support military students in Maine, visit www.maine.gov/doe and select “Military Families” in the A-Z index.  For more information about resources for military students within the Kittery School Department, visit www.kitteryschools.com and look under the “Military Families” heading.

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