A crowd of military families gathered at the library of Columbia Middle School in Grovetown on Friday morning to help the school celebrate its recent honor as recipient of Georgia’s Military Flagship School Award.
The Military Flagship Award recognizes schools in that state that show exceptional support for military families, particularly amid transitions that students in those families often endure.
Columbia County School Superintendent Steven Flynt and Georgia Department of Education Superintendent Richard Woods joined Principal Holly Barnes in commemorating the school’s award.
Preston Ndungu, an 8th student at Columbia Middle, accepted the Flagship Award on behalf of the school from Woods.
“Our school getting recognized is really good… because we have a lot of military students that go here, so they know the experience of what it’s like to move a lot, back and forth,” said Ndungu, whose father, Sgt. 1st Class Julius Ndungu, has been in the Army for 20 years.
Air Force Master Sgt. Adam Riggs has two sons attending Columbia County schools, 6th grader Abram at Columbia Middle, and Noah, a freshman at Grovetown High School. Riggs was not surprised that the state selected Columbia Middle for recognition, noting both the degree of support from the school and the ease of accessing it.
He had particular praise for the school’s Military Family Life counseling option.
“It’s just something that was offered, for the counselor to come in and pull my son out of classes just to see how he’s doing,” said Riggs. “What impressed me was… the fact that it was proactive.”
Master Sgt. Adam Riggs, center, with sons Abram, left, and Noah. Photo by Skyler Q. Andrews.
Columbia Middle is one of eight schools in the state, and the only school in the CSRA, to have received the award for the 2022-2023 school year. In 2019, Riverside Elementary School in Evans was honored as a Flagship School; and in Richmond County, Augusta’s Freedom Park Elementary School was awarded for 2020-2021.
The school held the ceremony as part of its celebration of Purple Up Day, observed every year on April 15 to honor the children of servicemembers.
“I’d love to say that somewhere in the future, Columbia County becomes a military flagship district,” said Woods, himself is the son of a 30-year U.S. Navy veteran. “That would be an amazing commitment. I think it would be something that would definitely be a source of pride.”
State school superintendent Richard Woods and student Preston Ndungu present the Military Flagship School Award, joined by Sgt. 1st Class Julius Ndungu (second from left) and representatives from the Columbia County School District, including Superintendent Steven Flynt (left of center), school board members Judy Teasley and David Alalof, and Columbia Middle principal Holly Barnes (second from right).
The superintendent strongly identified with the students, drawing from his own experience as a “military brat,” and touted not only the school’s aid to children of servicemembers, but the district’s potential to help make Georgia more attractive to military families.
“Anything that we can do to signal to Washington, D.C. that, first and foremost, we’re going to look after your families, that is our priority,” Woods said. “Down here in Georgia, but especially in Columbia County, that sends a very strong message, very welcoming message.”
Skyler Q. Andrews is a staff reporter for The Augusta Press. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.