‘It’s not a cliquish school.’ Columbus High awarded for welcoming students in military families.

Columbus High School honored with Military Flagship Award

Columbus High School is the first of six Ga. schools to be honored with the Military Flagship Award. The superintendent, principal, and a military student talk about the honor and the school.
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Columbus High School is the first of six Ga. schools to be honored with the Military Flagship Award. The superintendent, principal, and a military student talk about the honor and the school.

When his family moved to Fort Benning from Pennsylvania during the summer before his junior year in high school, it was John Tegtmeier’s 10th move. Columbus High became his seventh school and third high school.

So he’s an expert on assessing how well schools help students from military families with the transition. And he ranks CHS at the top of his list.

“It’s not a cliquish school at all,” John, now a senior, told the Ledger-Enquirer. “There’s no dedicated friend groups, and the few that there are aren’t like super-tight to the point where they don’t talk to anyone else, which is really nice.”

Most helpful, John said, was the “speed dating” orientation that CHS conducts for new students from military families.

“A bunch of students acted as peers, and we went around and talked to them, like what clubs we should join,” he said. “… It was almost like a kind of summer camp thing that you would do to meet people.”

John also is grateful for the full transfer of his academic credits to CHS, which wasn’t as smooth at his previous school.

“It was very easy coming here,” he said, adding that he’s making the best grades of his high school career.

John’s experience and other students like him at CHS helped the school be among the six inaugural recipients of the Military Flagship School Award, given by the Georgia Department of Education.

Columbus High School senior John Tegtmeier poses for a portrait after the celebration of Columbus High School being honored as the first Military Flagship School in Ga. on April 3, 2019, in Columbus, Ga. Tegtmeier’s father is in the military, and CHS was his 10th school. CHS is the first of six schools that will receive the award. Miranda Daniel

CHS principal Marvin Crumbs estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of the school’s 1,262 students have a parent on active duty in the military.

“When you travel from school to school, you want to feel safe,” Crumbs said. “We want to actually provide a home-like feeling while you’re at school. So we welcome them in, we meet their needs, and anything they need while they’re here we try to go above and beyond in making those things happen.”

The state awards reflect the important economic role that the military plays in Georgia. Rep. Dave Belton, Chair of the Military Affairs Working Group in the Georgia House, noted the military provides the state an average of an estimated $28 billion in annual economic impact.

“The Pentagon has repeatedly told us that education is their number-one issue when looking at bases,” Belton said in the GaDOEs news release. “That’s why I’m so excited about this Military Flagship program. This emphasis on military children will go a long way toward making Georgia the most military-friendly state in the nation. But most of all, it’s the right thing to do for the men and women who sacrifice their lives for our freedoms.”

The winning schools were selected based on criteria including services to support military students and their families; school personnel training and support from the wider community.

GaDOE superintendent Richard Woods and other officials gathered Wednesday at CHS to present the award and celebrate with students and staff.

“As the child of a military family myself, it means so much to me to recognize schools that are doing an exceptional job caring for Georgia’s military students and families,” Woods said in the news release. “As educators and public officials, one way we can show our gratitude and respect for those who serve is providing a welcoming, supportive school environment for their families.”

The other winners, selected out of 61 schools that applied, are Crooked River Elementary School in Camden County, Hilltop Elementary School in Houston County, Lowndes High School, Riverside Elementary School in Columbia County and Snelson-Golden Middle School in Liberty County.

The GaDOE’s selection committee evaluated the applications based on the following criteria:

Services and programs offered to support the needs of military students and their families.

Training provided to school personnel to help them understand and support the needs of military children.

Opportunities provided by the school to help military parents and their children connect with and feel supported by the surrounding community.

Efforts to help military parents and their children feel engaged and respected within their new school by creating opportunities to get involved.

Readily accessible, up-to-date digital information provided for prospective families, including regularly updated school and district websites and social media sites, future school calendars posted online and information on websites about school offerings of specific interest to military families.

The GaDOE cited CHS for its:

Student 2 Student program, which welcomes military transfer students by taking them on a tour of the school and serving as a lunch buddy.

Peer Helper program, which offers students from military families peer tutors for those who are struggling academically.

Partnership with the Military Child Education Coalition, a web-based service that offers 24/7 tutoring for students from military families.

A pre-registration night for all transfer students, including from military families.

An attendance policy that allows for military reasons to be taken into account when considering whether to approve an absence.

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mark Rice covers education and other issues related to youth. He also writes feature stories about any compelling topic. He has been reporting in Columbus and the Chattahoochee Valley for more than a quarter-century. He welcomes your local news tips and questions.