By Amanda Trimillos
Many schools across the nation developed grand plans for Month of the Military Child celebrations in April 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to cancel those plans with little notice. A year later, these same schools have adapted to virtual and hybrid learning environments—and Month of the Military Child celebrations must be augmented for social distancing environments and virtual atmospheres.
The good news is that with a little planning and a lot of creativity, celebrations for Month of the Military Child can still take place across the nation with just as much fanfare as previous years. To successfully celebrate Month of the Military Child, schools should plan ahead and include as many organizations as possible. Administrators and educators should have a record of how many military-connected students are part of their school community and be able to identify who those students are, but educators shouldn’t limit participation to just military-connected students or groups. Parent-Teacher Associations or Parent Partners, student clubs, school counselors, and student leadership groups can all take a part in planning events to recognize their students and peers connected to the military. When educators encourage student leaders and different clubs on campus to take charge in planning and participating, it builds school spirit and comradery. The more students who participate, the more their peers will want join in the fun! The more groups involved in the planning, the more fun and personalized events can be!
Highlight April as Month of the Military Child
Planning a celebration while managing the challenges created by the pandemic may seem overwhelming. The key is to remember that celebrating Month of the Military Child is about having fun, celebrating students, and offering resources and support that military families may not know are available through the school. Here is a list of ideas that can be a great foundation for planning your school’s Month of the Military Child celebrations—whether they are in-person, virtual, or a combination of both!
All Schools: In Person, Hybrid, or Virtual
With the variety of learning environments employed across the nation, it seems that nearly every school district has a different approach. Luckily, there are some ways to celebrate that are universal.
Purple Up! for Military Kids Be sure that all staff and students have the opportunity to wear purple in April. The official Purple Up! Day established by the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) is April 15, but individual state calendars may designate a different day. Consider purchasing Purple Up! shirts, and if time allows, add the school’s name or mascot to make the shirts extra special. With students feeling disconnected from one another, a simple gesture like a t-shirt can remind them they are a part of a strong, supportive community.
Announce the Celebration
Update the school’s marquee to announce Month of the Military Child and Purple Up!
Write parent newsletters to highlight Month of the Military Child activities. Include facts about military families or military service. These facts can include insights specific to the school’s local military community.
Use social media platforms to offer daily highlights of the school’s approach to Month of the Military activities. Include pictures of daily fun as well as ways families can participate at home.
Engage the Students
Host an art, essay, or poetry contest focusing on the life of a military-connected child. Ideas can include pride in a parent’s service, military lifestyle, transitions/changes, or cultures experienced. Create a virtual space to display all pieces, and highlight grade level winners. Celebrate the winners by posting on the school website and feature entries on social media sites. Remember to honor school privacy policies for public posting.
Create library reading challenges that focus on themes about military life. Books can include stories about military kid’s experiences, the military lifestyle, and being the new kid.
Recognize, Highlight, and Educate
Highlight books about military life at the school library. Include books in library display cases and add highlighted books to the school’s library webpage. A great starting point for military family books is MilitaryFamilyBooks.com.
Sporting events salute. Ask the announcer to make special announcements before, during, and after an event to recognize all military-connected students. Encourage participation by asking students to raise the flag, sing the National Anthem, or recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
Host virtual book clubs for faculty and staff. Consider a month-long Seasons of My Military Student book club to build support strategies all-year long. Invite the authors to join one of the virtual meetings.
Make Resources Available
Add resources to the school website. Resources can include contact numbers for Military Family Life Counselors (MFLC), School Liaison Officers (SLO), and MIC3 state commissioners. Don’t forget to include an on-campus contact point for families.
Hold a virtual parent forum on Zoom or your school’s favorite platform. Invite military-connected parents, teachers, and MFLC to talk about ways the school supports military-connected students.
Host a parent educational session focused on challenges and supports for military-connected students. Be sure to talk about the Interstate Compact and how parents and teachers can unite to support military-connected students on campus.
Offer a faculty professional development day focused on supporting military-connected students in the classroom. Be sure to include time for teachers to work in breakout groups focusing on areas for each Season of Transition.™
Document the Celebration
Take pictures for the yearbook! Fill a page in the yearbook by taking as many pictures as possible of students and staff celebrating. Be sure to include any virtual and hybrid students by encouraging them to send in pictures to the yearbook staff from home.
These celebrations balance the experience of students who are learning both from home and at school. While they are on campus, they hope to find as much normalcy in celebrating as possible. Students learning at home can continue to participate as well.
Engage the Students
Host a spirit week leading up to Purple Up! Check your state’s calendar for the specific day to wear purple, and lets students and educators know in advance so they can prepare for the different days. Ideas for Spirit Week leading up to Purple Up! can include dress-up days like patriotic day, crazy camo day, superhero day, favorite military service day, and more.
Broadcast a daily or weekly announcement with facts about military families or service. Consider having military-connected students on campus read the announcements each day. Be sure teachers are logged in with their at-home students to ensure they can hear the announcements as well.
Create military-themed display cases and bulletin boards. Ask military-connected students to loan pictures or items that reflect their experiences.
Display world maps. One map can pinpoint where military-connected students have lived, which encourages conversation about military students’ backgrounds and experience. A second map can pinpoint where military family members are currently stationed or deployed, honoring their service within the student’s own school community.
Chalk the school sidewalks with fun messages of encouragement. For added fun use as much purple chalk as possible!
These celebrations need to ensure that all students at home have the opportunity to participate in online-only activities. Be sure students have a way to upload and send pictures to a contact person on campus. Include as many pictures as possible in the yearbook and on social media. Consider prizes for top participants. These can include digital gift certificate prizes, certificates mailed home from the school, school swag, and more.
Engage the Students
Have students decorate their learning space. Ask them to turn their cameras on for a class screenshot. Students can have fun with this by exercising their creativity and personalizing their space. And they can choose to either be in or out of the photo.
Host a virtual game night for students and their families. Consider trivia or bingo with military-themed questions and prizes.
Create Community Connections
Collect audio or video messages from students and staff giving shout-outs of gratitude. Create a school video to share to the campus. This is a great opportunity to invite clubs to dedicate a club day to participate in building messages.
Mail home cards of gratitude. Sometimes the best encouragement is to send and receive actual mail. Spend time as a school writing quick postcards of gratitude and encouragement to students.
#MilKidTHX Have parents and teachers write thank you letters or messages on social media thanking their military-connected students for their commitment to their family and enduring the challenges of military life. Don’t forget to include #MilKidTHX
For more Month of the Military Child ideas for all school environments this year, join Seasons of My Military Student authors Dr. Amanda Trimillos and Stacy Huisman in the Seasons private Facebook group.
Amanda Trimillos, EdD, is a military spouse, mother, and National Board-Certified Teacher with extensive experience teaching military students in the United States and overseas. This year Amanda is building local partnerships to ensure Month of the Military Child celebrations occur even in a virtual and hybrid learning environment. She is coauthor of Seasons of My Military Student: Practical Ideas for Parents and Teachers and wrote the essay “School Choices and Changes” in Stories Around the Table: Laugher, Wisdom, and Strength in Military Life.
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