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On The Move

Transitioning Families and New Schools

Tampa Bay is home to thousands of active and retired military families. Because of Tampa’s size, families can choose from many wonderful communities as their new home base. However, the vastness of Tampa Bay makes it easy for new families to feel disconnected, especially the children.

Many families transitioning to MacDill Air Force Base start their home search by identifying the best schools.

Fortunately, MacDill has a fantastic support system through the MacDill AFB School Liaison Program1 under the direction of Venetia Waters. The MacDill Force Support Squadron-hosted programs include a list of schools with DOD-funded guidance counselors, monthly support webinars, and more.

Additionally, for those moving into Hillsborough County, there is a District Military Liaison2, Kim Sukach, who can assist parents with navigating school choice options and student support services. Sukach helps parents identify school boundaries, establish residency, and guides those with special needs students in navigating school transition.

Families can connect with the Exceptional Student Education Office3 before arrival to ensure everything is in place. The district liaison also coordinates with Military Family Life Counseling4 to support students’ and families’ mental and relational health as they transition.

There is a new way for families to identify military-friendly schools through the Florida Purple Star School of Distinction5 Program, which recognizes schools that have committed to supporting military families and students.

Support can be demonstrated by recognizing military holidays and days of distinction, such as April as the Month of the Military Child. Purple Star Schools will celebrate Purple Up Day, which falls this year on Wednesday, April 17, 2024.

To earn the “Purple Star” designation, a school must meet specific requirements intended to support the unique needs of military students and families and make sure teachers understand those requirements. Hillsborough County currently has 21 Purple Star schools. Pasco and Pinellas each have one school with that distinction.


Alie and Her Daughters

Alie is the wife of a U.S. Navy veteran. She understood there would be moves in her future when she married. Her husband had told her he would “show her the world.”

Six moves and three daughters later, Alie didn’t get to see the whole world, but she saw an awful lot of Florida with three PCSs to Jacksonville, two to Pensacola, and now Tampa.

It has become second nature to Alie and other military families like hers to experience transition while helping the children acclimate to new schools, friends, and environments.

Alie utilized resources she found on the MacDill AFB Facebook page, directing her to the School Liaison Program and Military Spouse social pages.

“We wanted to be in South Tampa,” Alie says. “It was our first time not being in private schools, so we wanted to find great schools and affordable housing.”

It didn’t take long for Alie and her family to recognize the higher cost of living in South Tampa. Once they realized they would need to look elsewhere, Alie began paying attention to the Military Spouse pages on FaceBook, where her peers were raving about FishHawk in Lithia, Florida.

“We were provided a family liaison via SOCOM. But honestly, we knew so many people who had spent time in Florida that we received the best advice through them.”

In speaking to Alie’s three daughters, it is easy to see that all youth have different experiences and require varying levels of support.

Elena, the oldest and now 23, made the most moves and attended seven schools before graduating from Newsome High School in Lithia, FL.

“I often felt overwhelmed and lost, always trying to fit into a clique before lunch on the first day,” Elena recalls.

She remembers the moment she was welcomed into the school, but it wasn’t by a student. “I remember the golf coach was helping me with my orientation, and he just happened to ask if I had played before,” Elena says. “I told him I had never played, not even once, and he responded with, ‘Perfect! You’re on the team!’”

Elena says that compared to other moves, Tampa was the easiest. “ I knew my sisters and parents were going through the same thing. We were all essentially new kids going at a new school, trying to make friends before lunch on the first day!”

Olivia, now 20, has a very different take on things. “I was extremely upset. It was a huge transition that was made even more difficult by the fact that I went from private to public school.”

She was also entering middle school, which is tough on every kid. “My parents were as supportive as possible, but making friends took a long time.”

It took Olivia until her second year of high school for her to finally feel like Tampa was somewhat of a home.

Gabby, now 16, has had the least moves.  She entered fourth grade when they arrived in Tampa.

But Gabby remembers her father’s last deployment. “It was really hard the first few weeks after he left.”

The hardest part was not always getting to share the highlights of the day and special days like a dance recital, her birthday, and just things going on at school. She also noted that when dad was gone, it left a household of only girls and “all the hormones that go along with that.”

“ I had to get along with my mom and sisters. Sometimes, that was a struggle, and I would miss my dad,” Gabby says.

It is never too late to utilize the resources listed above. If you are a military-connected family with children, these programs are here to serve you, as your family has served our nation.






Written By: Kristy Verdi


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