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ACPSD Military Student Ambassadors Training to Better Support Peer Transition to Their New Schools

Jose Hernandez was a happy “first day” student, and the smile on his face showed it.

The person sent to greet him on his first day at a new school had done so quite warmly, being sure to make eye contact with him. Although the person had plenty of friends in the hallway they never took their focus away from him, which was impressive. Jose felt welcomed and valued on his very first day at his new school, which was the goal of the exercise.

Jose, who is a Military Student Ambassador from Ridge Spring-Monetta Middle School, had just participated in a Junior Student-2-Student (JS2S) role-playing training held for student ambassadors from all 11 middle schools in Aiken County Public Schools. Led by trainers from the Military Child Education Coalition, it is part of the District’s Purple Star School District initiative and a continuing focus on support of military families in our community.

“It was so encouraging to see our students take this training and make it their own,” stated ACPSD Military Community Liaison Sondra Thomas. “I am excited to see the different student-led programs that will take place across the district. I am also very proud of the overall response of our students and their commitment to ensuring that every incoming student is accepted into their school community.”

Jennifer Quinn, a trainer with the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), spent two days with students and JS2S teacher sponsors in Aiken County alongside several of her MCEC colleagues.

“We are training these particular students to run a program in their middle schools called Junior Student 2 Student, but we also have programs for elementary and high school students and they are all leadership programs,” stated Quinn. “The students who will be leading the programs in their schools are here receiving leadership training, but the goal of the program is to take care and welcome the new students when they come in. We know that if we don’t capture those military students when they first come into the school, and get their social situation set up then they can’t really focus on their academics. We want to find them a group they are comfortable with, a group they can sit with at lunch, and that friendly face in the hallway.”

Quinn says while the training provides students and teachers with program fundamentals, the training purposefully does not offer any organizational specifics.

“We give them with the information they need to support student needs, whether it be academics, relationships, or something else, but we do not tell them how to run their program. We want it to fit their school culture,” commented Quinn. “The overarching principle of this program is 100-percent acceptance of all new students. If they look different, eat different foods or go to a different church, we are still going to respect them and welcome them in. This particular group of students we are training here in Aiken County have been amazing.”

Jackson STEM Middle Magnet School seventh-grader Dorien Coleman was himself once a brand new student who was transferring in from another school. He was apprehensive at first, but a kind JMS student took away that anxiety away with a timely question.

“In the past I have been that new student, coming from Hornsby Middle in Augusta, Georgia, to Jackson STEM Middle here in South Carolina, and I did not know anyone at all” stated Dorien. “On that first day of school I was afraid no one would like me, but someone came up to me and said hello, and asked me if I wanted to be friends. That made me really happy, so I want everyone to have that feeling. It brings me joy to make other people as happy as I am.”

Dorien said the JS2S training had increased his awareness and heightened his empathy for others.

“One of the things I’ve learned here during the training is that everyone has a different story and comes from a different place,” commented Dorien. “They may have a smile on their face at school, but after they leave they may be alone or not be able to have clean clothes. It just breaks my heart that some people have to move all the time and are not able to learn and make friends.”

Luke Waldhauer, a sixth-grade student at Paul Knox Middle School, said he is ready to put his new skills to work as a student ambassador.

“I want to be a student ambassador so new students who have to move a lot and have a hard time making friends will have someone to show them around and help them make friends and get used to the school,” stated Luke. “Today we’ve learned more about community and service work and how to include new students in those activities in our school. I’m really looking forward to helping our new students.”

Leavelle McCampbell Middle School sixth-grader Litzy Pineda Flores was attracted to the JS2S program by the opportunity to learn more about leadership and serve her classmates. 

“I’m going to really focus on 100-percent acceptance and the integrity aspect of our training because building trust is very important.” Stated Litzy. “I want to bring knowledge from today’s training back to my school. At our school we believe applying knowledge is power and that there is a leader inside every one of us.”

The focus on leadership and service was also a draw for Zachary Whetstone, an eighth-grader at Schofield Middle School.

“I’ve seen times when some new students maybe weren’t treated as well and I want to make sure that never happens again,” commented Zachary. “I’ve learned here that you can be a better person by helping other students feel better about themselves. No matter where people come from, you treat everyone the same, whether they are black, white or purple.”

When asked if he would really offer help to a purple student, if he ever met one, Zachary is adamant.

“Yes, I would,” he stated. “I want our new students to know that they can come to me for help with anything.”

The training was hosted in downtown Aiken by Aiken First Presbyterian Church.

LINK TO SCHOOL PRESS RELEASE: 2020 PR Military Student Ambassadors

ACPSD Communications Department