Williamsburg-James City County (WJCC) Schools announced that the two schools received the Purple Star Designation before Veterans Day weekend. The Virginia Purple Star Designation was awarded to the two schools for creating a “military-friendly environment for families and students,” WJCC said.
Warhill and Lois S. Hornsby are the first schools within WJCC schools to receive the Virginia Purple Star Designation. The months-long application process with the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) was led by Warhill’s Advanced Placement (AP) Human Geography teacher and retired Air Force Master Sergeant, John King.
King served as a point of contact and he said completed two certification classes during the annual application process. He had to provide the VDOE with certificates of completion for that training and then he met with a liaison between the school and the district office and they talked about a detailed checklist of what the school needed to apply.
“We want Warhill to be one of those schools that shows our military community that we are supportive of their students,” said King in an interview with WYDaily. “Every student has stories and everyone’s students go through all kinds of challenges. Military families go through some unique challenges. Whenever military families have to deploy, or they’re going through different schools, or they [service members/parents] might be gone for a long period of time. We just want students to know, and we want families to know, that they are welcome here and they’re going to get any kind of support that they would need. Whether it is extracurricular, whether it is academic, whatever they are going to need Warhill is a military-friendly school.”
After serving 22 years in the United States Air Force, King settled with his family in Williamsburg. His final assignment was at Langley Air Force Base. Shortly after retiring from active service in the Air Force, King began teaching classes in the WJCC school system. He’s currently in the midst of his twelfth year of teaching high school classes with WJCC Schools.
One of the unique assignments that King introduced to his classes is the concept of the “Six-Word War Story.” King says he got the idea from two Iraq War veterans in 2014. One of those veterans is a Westpoint graduate who happened to be a big fan of Ernest Hemingway.
“Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a novel using just six words,” said King. “So he did, and to me, it’s kind of quirky because my brain’s not wired like that. He wrote a 6-word novel, ‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.‘ Well, fast forward decades and decades, and then during the Iraq War, these two veterans were sitting there and watching their fellow brothers and sisters in arms. They knew what they were going through. This one gentleman said, ‘I wonder what their six-word story would be.'”
As a combat veteran, King shares with his students his own personal six-word war stories, as well as some of his friends’ stories who are also U.S. military veterans.
“I give them [the students] all a post-it note and I have them write a six-word memoir about their lives and their experiences and, its kind of like, ‘how can you sum up your life in just six words?’,” said King. “They don’t put their name on it, but I collect those post-it notes and I get a big sheet of paper from our media center and I put those post-it notes all over and it ends up looking like a quilt and then I post it on the wall. So it’s those students, and those voices, and their lives in just six words.”
King told WYDaily that there are over 260 students at Warhill who are in some way associated with the military.
“Now, having the opportunity to be a purple star school, we can increase that outreach even more. Incoming families will be able to say, ‘hey, well this school is designated a purple star school. I know this school is going to be able to welcome my child. They’re going to be in a comfortable learning environment, even if I have to deploy,'” said King. “One of the best things that I think is critical for any teacher is to create a positive learning environment. To allow the students to have their voices heard. I’m always open to the students sharing their experiences.”
King told WYDaily that, as a veteran, he is honored to be a part of the Purple Star program and to see Warhill and Lois S. Hornsby School receive the designation.
For more information on WJCC Schools, check out its official website.