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Military Families Find Connection and Support at Ola Elementary School

HENRY COUNTY, GA – The nation observed Military Appreciation Month throughout May, honoring the sacrifices of those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. The Memorial Day holiday also reminds us of those who paid the ultimate price to preserve freedoms for Americans and people across the globe.

In keeping with the spirit of these recent observances, one Henry County Schools elementary school hosted a special event to celebrate military families.       

HCS takes pride in acknowledging and being responsive to the community’s voice. Earlier this year, Ola Elementary School Principal Carrie Edwards and her staff exemplified this responsiveness through their work to identify and address the needs of a special group of stakeholders affiliated with the school.

“I met several parents who mentioned they were either active-duty military personnel or veterans and had recently moved to the area,” Principal Edwards said. “I realized we had many new parents who were used to having an instant family on a military base, but McDonough is not a military town.” 

In areas with a large military presence, personnel dressed in fatigues or other military attire are routinely observed within civilian communities. Even before U.S. Army bases and posts in the nearby cities of East Point and Forest Park closed, Henry County would not have been considered a traditional military hub.

In light of this realization, Principal Edwards and her team set out to help approximately 52 military families at Ola Elementary School find connection and support. Their efforts resulted in a military appreciation breakfast in April that catered to 30 guests. Volunteers who regularly support the school provided catering services, and Southern Belle Farm contributed fresh produce.

“Many shared that they had felt a sense of solitude after moving from a military base to a town like McDonough,” Principal Edwards added. “So, we decided to host a Military Connections Breakfast to allow new families to connect and build relationships with other military families in our school. We also know the military has a unique culture, so we wanted to create a space for these parents. There is power and support in connection, and school is a wonderful place to bring families together.”

Among the honored guests was highly decorated U.S. Army Lt. Col. Scott Mahone, who was named one of 19 inaugural Veteran Champions of the Year in Higher Education in 2021. LTC Mahone works with various veteran support groups and organizations and shared information about resources and services available to military families.

“I am so honored to have these brave men and women among the Henry County Schools family,” said Board Chair Sophe Pope (Dist. 4). “I am truly thankful to the team at Ola Elementary for their incredible foresight in launching this event and providing us with another opportunity to celebrate our military personnel and support our students and families.”  

The event’s impact was immediate and profound, and attendees expressed gratitude for the opportunity to connect with other families sharing similar experiences. Guests described the support offered and relationships established as invaluable and especially meaningful for those who recently returned from overseas tours of duty.   

“The breakfast was well planned and meticulously thought out, from the initial greetings once we entered the school to the introductions of each family and the lovely decorations,” said U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Khiry Thomas. “We have never experienced such an opportunity at any school where our girls have been enrolled. Seeing how Ola Elementary supports military families was overwhelmingly beautiful. We would love to continue attending this and similar events created for military families.” 

“Since the breakfast, we have been able to connect with other families on professional and personal levels, and we have shared ideas and experiences that will benefit us for a lifetime,” said U.S. Army Military Intelligence Analyst Sergeant Pollie Thomas. “Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts for making this school year an amazing experience, and thank you for loving our military families.” 

The attendees’ expressions of gratitude and desire to participate in more of these types of events underscore the importance of honoring those who serve, not only during designated months. Ola Elementary’s modest event carried a powerful message, highlighting the need for support for military families in communities beyond traditional military towns. 

Following the success of the inaugural Military Connections Breakfast, Edwards intends to continue hosting events for military families. In addition to establishing the breakfast as an annual spring event, she hopes to host a similar breakfast for veterans each fall, as well as other activities throughout the year.  

“We owe such a huge debt of gratitude to members of our armed forces, one that we are hard-pressed to repay,” said Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Knowlton. “However, I believe this gesture by Ola Elementary is a small but important token of appreciation for their contributions and sacrifices. I commend Principal Edwards and her staff for taking the initiative to acknowledge and celebrate these families.”

The breakfast also reflects the district’s holistic approach to student achievement, which recognizes the importance of valuing and supporting the entire family.

“One of our district’s core beliefs is that family and community involvement are critical to student success,” said Principal Edwards. “I truly believe the school is the heart of the community, and bringing our military families together is one more way that, as a school, we can encourage and support community connection. We want to partner in supporting our students, and by supporting our families, we are doing just that. Through this event, we were able to share ways in which parents can get involved. Several of our military dads are mentors for our Boys United Club.”

About Henry County Schools 

Henry County Schools (HCS) is the eighth-largest school district in Georgia, consisting of 52 schools, including two academies, located about 20 minutes south of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Over the past 20 years, our community has grown in population from 113,000 residents to over 244,000 residents. Since 1999, student enrollment has grown from 21,000 to 43,000 students, and our number of employees has grown from 3,000 to 6,000. 
HCS is “In Pursuit of Exceptional,” taking action to advance opportunities, access, and outcomes so that every student in our school district has Exceptional Support, Exceptional Access, and an Exceptional Future. In 2020, our Board of Education adopted our 2021-2026 Community-Inspired Strategic Plan and laid out a clear vision and mission for Henry County Schools. Our vision is to ensure a high-quality, world-class education for every student, and our mission is to empower all students with exceptional opportunities and access that lead to success in a global society.