Bayside High School junior Morgan McHenry knows how it feels to be a new student.
“I’ve lived mostly in Virginia, Georgia, Hawaii, and once in Florida, but in many different houses and many different schools in each city, moving back and forth between each one of them,” she said. “Every time you went to a new place, your friends who were there the first time weren’t there anymore because they were all military and had moved.”
McHenry, a military-connected student herself, moved to Virginia Beach in August 2016 from Broadway, Virginia, just two weeks before the start of the school year. She was pleasantly surprised to find assistance from the members of the school’s Student 2 Student (S2S) club.
“To me, it was like another kind of home, where you could go to any of those students in the club and ask for help. A lot of my other schools never did that, so I was wandering around the other schools for days not able to figure out where classes were.”
McHenry liked it so much, she joined the S2S club last year. Now she is the smiling face incoming students see and she is eager to help.
She is not alone. S2S clubs are available in all of the division’s high schools, and middle schools offer Junior Student 2 Student (JS2S) clubs. The clubs are part of an initiative by the Military Child Education Coalition to ease transitions and create a positive, welcoming environment for new students – military-connected and civilian students alike. Many of the division’s elementary schools also have student ambassadors who welcome their new peers.
S2S and JS2S club members and their adult advisers recently attended a workshop hosted by the division’s Office of Student Support Services for school teams to reconnect and prepare for the upcoming school year.
There was time to share ideas, too.
Valentine’s for Veterans. Treats for Troops. Donating board games to CHKD. A blanket drive. Canned food collections.
“We want to empower them to move just beyond welcoming new students. We like to have the service learning component because we feel that it’s important in building character, making connections and meeting new people,” said Natalie Meiggs, the division’s coordinator of military-connected and academic support programs.
“Service” is one of five core values of the Student 2 Student programs. “Relationships, Academics, Leadership and Finding the Way” are the additional stated values.
Finding one’s way, especially in the cafeteria, is a concern Amanda Yoder says frequently tops the list.
“From K-12, that’s the No. 1 issue. ‘Who do I sit with at lunch?’ Just having someone they know, a familiar face, at lunch that first day or that first week is huge,” said Yoder. She is one of the division’s two military-connected school counselors who is primarily focused on supporting military-connected students and their families before, during and after their school enrollment in Virginia Beach.
“I hear from parents beforehand. They call and say they are really worried about their child, it’s their first move or they don’t often make friends easily or something like that. We can usually set their minds at ease by telling them about the student 2 student program.”
“In middle schools we partner them with somebody on their same core team. In high schools we try to overlap a class they have in common or the same lunch. They can tell the new students things either adults can’t or don’t think of like, ‘Don’t go up this staircase.’”
Green Run High School counselors Timothy Gamble and Rachel Webb agreed that new students often find comfort in speaking to a peer rather than an adult.
“Sometimes, coming into our counseling office, students are not feeling overall comfortable, but having someone their own age to talk to, it gives them that great feeling that someone is there looking out for them,” said Gamble.
“That’s really important,” added Webb, “especially in high school. It’s a big school so it’s good to have a point of contact. In case they are not comfortable right away, they have someone they can rely on. It’s great that they build a really good connection with each other.”
Making connections and offering support are what Channing Connors, a Kellam High School junior, enjoys about his involvement in the S2S club.
“As a military kid, I feel that it’s great to help people, even though I haven’t moved as much,” he said. “We have a 100 percent acceptance for everyone. We try and help them with their classes and finding new friends, too. We try and set them on the right path. I think it’s one of the best clubs.”
With support from students like Connors and McHenry, incoming students likely will find it to be one of the best clubs, too.