Ashlynn Ruleman, 16, a junior at Waterford High School, at the school on Feb. 7. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Connecticut high school student a role model for military kids

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By Martha Shanahan,

A Waterford High School junior is one of two Connecticut semi-finalists for a $10,000 “kid of the year” award for the children of parents in the military.

Ashlynn Ruleman, 16, moved to Waterford in June, the latest of about half a dozen times she’s moved since she was born in Key West, Florida.

“It’s a lot better than I thought it was going to be,” Ruleman said. Her family has moved along with Ruleman’s father, U.S. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Ruleman, all across the South and now are making their first home in New England while Ruleman takes on a new role teaching at the Coast Guard Academy.

All along the way, Ashlynn Ruleman has excelled in academics, volunteered and come up with creative ways to make friends on a tight schedule. Her mother, Merrie, submitted an application to Operation Homefront, a national organization benefiting military families and veterans, for its annual Military Child of the Year award.

She’s one of two people in Connecticut, and 15 people in Coast Guard families, to make the semi-final round out of hundreds of people between the ages of 8 and 18 across the country who applied.

The winners, one person from each branch of the military to be announced in April, will get $10,000 to use however they want, along with a free trip to attend a gala and meet members of Congress in Washington, D.C.

The award, said Operation Homefront spokesman Aaron Taylor, is meant to recognize the sacrifices that the children of members of the military make through deployments, moves and uncertainty.

“The strength of military kids is really reflective of some of the trials that (they) go through,” Taylor said.

It hasn’t been easy, Ruleman admitted.

“I know … it’s (my dad’s) job to move around,” she said. “It’s not the most fun, half the time.”

But she’s made the best of it. Ruleman joined the track and cross-country teams at Waterford High School, plays violin in the school orchestra and has made new friends in her first semester at school, all while juggling three advanced placement courses.

At her previous school in Charleston, South Carolina, Ruleman took on several leadership roles in clubs and organized a prom dress sale at the school that provided more than 200 students with affordable dresses, her mom said.

Ruleman said she thinks being a “military kid” has pushed her to be more proactive about joining clubs, making friends and keeping her grades up.

“I think if I hadn’t moved so much, I would have stuck to doing the same things,” she said. “Joining the clubs makes you more sociable.”

Ruleman said if she wins, she’ll use the $10,000 prize to pay for college, probably at a school somewhere in the South. She’s considering schools in Boston, she said, but focusing on campuses in Alabama, Tennessee and Texas.

“For warmth,” she said.

A budding expert in schizophrenia, a mental disorder she’s “fascinated” with, Ruleman said she plans to study neuroscience and eventually go to medical school.

“It would mean a lot to help out with college,” she said of the award.

By Martha Shanahan,