THE COLOR PURPLE
Growing up on an island just a square mile wide is a unique experience for children, a circumstance that’s magnified for students who have parents working across the bay at the U.S. Navy’s “Home of Thought.”
The Naval War College in Newport is the major driving force behind Jamestown’s significant enrollment of military children, who seemingly pass through town via a revolving door. To support those children, the schools celebrate National Month of the Military Child every spring during “Purple Up Day.” The color to raise awareness for military children was chosen because it’s a combination of Army green, Marine red and Coast Guard, Air Force and Navy blue.
This year’s celebration was April 12 at Lawn School. Fifty-eight students, who represent all five branches of the armed forces, were honored with a certificate and replica dog tag during an assembly in the gym.
“We’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge not only you and your families’ sacrifices, which keep us all safe, but also the rich diversity, ideas and experiences you bring to this school, which makes us a very special place,” principal Nate Edmunds said.
Following a performance from the middle school’s chorus, which sang the official songs of each branch, there was a slideshow of photographs from military families. Students also read poems. Virginia Martin, Eva Junge, Megan Jackson, Gabby Carnevale and Aria Carnevale showcased a poem they had written together titled “People Hear Military.” It’s about the popular misconceptions regarding military service. Earlier this month, the girls read their poem during the Rhode Island Writers Workshop at Roger Williams University.
“He’s gone when I need him most, I may not wear the uniform, but I serve too,” she said. “I let him go for your freedom of speech, I let him go for your right to vote, I let him go for your right to be free, I let him go knowing he might not come home.”
The parents of military children, both civilian and uniformed, were invited alongside the students and faculty. Lindsay Hageman, whose twins attend fifth grade, said the assembly was unique for her family.
“We’ve never done it at any other school before,” she said. “It’s great.”
Hageman and her family moved back to town in December and will remain here permanently following her husband’s retirement from the Air Force. She said the community made a significant impression on the family seven years ago when they were stationed in Rhode Island.
Mary Heathman, whose husband also serves in the Air Force, appreciates the small-town feel and open arms. “The school here has been really great about including us and engaging us,” she said.
Katherine Jackson moved here about 18 months ago and has one child at Lawn. She lauded the district’s commitment to military students.
“They’ve done a phenomenal job,” she said.
Zack Koehr, who is the son of a sailor, also enjoys the school.
“You make friends so quick because it’s so small,” he said. “Everyone’s really nice.”
Jackson echoed sentiments about the welcoming nature of both schools. Unfortunately, the family will leave town this summer when her husband returns from deployment.
Gary Donovan, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, enjoyed listening to children explain their lives with the military. It allows their classmates to appreciate what they go through, he said. “It’s a chance to stop and spend some time talking about who they are.”
His son, Grant, enjoyed seeing his face during the slideshow. He also was thrilled his father was in attendance.
“I was just glad that he was there,” Grant said.
April was designated as Month of the Military Child in 1986 by Caspar Weinberger, the secretary of defense under President Ronald Reagan. Pamela Martin, the district’s liaison to the war college, said the assemblies reflect the changing attitudes in the armed forces.
“The military’s traditional stance was if we wanted you to have a family, we would have issued you one,” she said. “Times change. They realized that was not the healthiest approach. If you help support the family, they support the service member, and the service members are more likely to stay in. This is part of the movement to recognize that family readiness is part of retention.”
As of this year, there are 1.9 million American military children around the world. Anecdotally, Edmunds said about 25 percent of the student body in town are the children of military personnel, including Aiden Hollingsworth, whose father is a Coast Guardsman. “We’re very honored to be part of it,” Aiden said.