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Program Helps Students Cope With Transitions

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 8, 2005 – It's a daunting and scary experience when school-age children wake up one morning realizing that they're in a strange new place, and, except for their family, they don't know anyone at all.

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Students preformed skits about the Student-to-Student program at their schools during the Military Child Education Coalition 7th annual conference in Atlanta. From left are Philip Danman of Central Kitsap High School in Silverdale, Wash.; Audrey Corte of Randolph High School, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas; and Levar Weston of Hopkinsville (Ky.) High School. Photo by Rudi Williams

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

They don't have any friends, no peers to talk with and don't know anything about the school they're about to enter, the neighborhood they live in, or the community they just moved into.

That's the dilemma of hundreds of military-connected students every time their parents move to different assignments around the world. Because of the frequent problematic situations for teenagers, the Military Child Education Coalition created an innovative program called "Student to Student," or S2S, to help solve the problem.

Paul Callen, S2S project director, and a team of school counselors, students and school liaison officers featured the program during MCEC's recently completed 7th annual conference here. "For the conference, there were 10 teams of two students each from 10 schools around the country," Callen, a retired Army colonel, said. "Most teams were made up of a male and female student between the grades of sophomore and senior year."

Callen said students were brought to the conference to showcase S2S programs they've implemented at their schools. He noted they would give conferees a taste of passion, commitment and belief in their programs. The students performed skits of their schools' S2S programs for the 550 conferees.

Starting with six schools last year, the S2S program has grown to 51 schools across the country in just one year. Most are public schools on or near military installations.

Callen said educators, administrators and military officials found out that the S2S program is a great benefit to them and the schools.

"It raises the reputation of the school and the community as a comfortable place and welcoming place to be," he said. "It also makes them feel that they're doing something to help students when they first come in or when they leave. And that may prevent issues and problems or solve a lot of problems for the incoming or outgoing transitioning student.

Callen pointed to a high interest in S2S at the conference showing . "There seems to be a lot of need for it. Folks are really looking forward to implementing the program at their school," he noted.

He said S2S has no organizational boundaries, because each student has the same kinds of needs. "So people in all the services are affected by the same situations or have the same needs for the program," Callen added.

For schools concerned about program cost, Callen pointed out MCEC pays for the training, including transportation, lodging, supplies and equipment for the students and counselor or teacher.

"The only cost to the school is their commitment that says that once MCEC trains their students, the school will stay with the program, implement it, follow on, and be accountable and responsible," he noted. "To do so, all the school needs is a teacher, counselor or a volunteer and two students who would commit to running the program."

Schools that participate in S2S training are given an ICC, or interactive counseling center, computer device as part of the program, Callen said. "An ICC allows the school to connect with other schools around the world that have the ICC computer device."

ICC is a Web-based videoconferencing system that allows families and educational counselors to exchange information between sending and receiving schools.

"I think the S2S program is the answer to a lot of issues and problems with transition when we talk about touching students' lives and really reaching out to them," Callen said. "I think the program builds student leadership, makes students leaders."

Callen noted the program caters not only to issues students have at new assignments, but also to helping students getting ready to leave a place they know.

"The Student-to-Student program meets transitioning student's critical needs, either coming to or going from a new assignment," Callen noted. "Students we've trained become trainers of new students coming in."

The three greatest needs transitioning students have are finding their way around a new school, making relationships and good friends, and also learning about the academic requirements for that school, he said.

During one skit at the conference, Sarah Ryan of Ridgeview High School in Columbia, S.C., told the audience, "Most of us have moved many, many times and we know how hard it is to make friends. We have a 2,300 student population, and it was hard for me to make new friends in such a big school as Ridgeview."

Amanda Feathers, an incoming senior at Hopkinsville (Ky.) High School, said, "Our school has over 1,000 students with 40 percent being military dependents. Our school borders Fort Campbell Army base, 'Home of the 101st Airborne,' Feathers said in unison with her schoolmate, Lavar Weston. "One of the hardest things to do when you come into a new school is to make friends," Weston said. "We try to make everybody feel like they're part of the family when they come to our school. One of the hardest things to do is build trust in other people."

Feathers and Weston demonstrated different games they play to put new students at ease, including academics as a television game show.

Ryane Howry of Central Kitsap High School, Silverdale, Wash., is the daughter of a Navy chief warrant officer. "I have moved four times - California, Hawaii, Mississippi and Washington," she said. "In those four places, the cultures are completely different. When I lived in California and Hawaii, I was a minority. It was a completely Asian culture. I grew up in that, and that's what I knew. Then when I was in Mississippi I was like, 'Wow, this is weird. There's a lot of white people at my school.'

"That's a culture shock," Howry continued. "You walk into a new school with a different culture and a different way of doing things, and you're like, 'Oh, no, what's going on here?' That really freaks me and my brothers and sisters out a little bit. Besides that, academically, moving around a lot, I've been put through every school system that public schools have been able to think of. With this transition, you lose credits."

For example, Spanish is offered for credit in California but not in Mississippi, she explained. "So when I transferred to Mississippi," he said, "they refused to accept my credits. I had Spanish I, II, III and half of IV."

And the grading systems differ from place to place, she noted. "It's like stepping on an alien plant and saying, 'Hi! Who are you?' And everyone speaks a different language," she said. Programs like S2S help get kids through school and help to prevent many problems, Howry said.

As part of the skit, Denman had Howry finish some sentences.

"Moving to a new school in the middle of a school years is ..."

"Scary," Howry responded.

"Leaving all your friends behind is ..."

"Disappointing," Howry answered.

"Losing credits is ..."

"Utterly depressing," Howry responded.

"All the things S2S provides are ..."

"Priceless," Howry said.

"S2S, don't let your school go without it," Denman said.

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Related Sites:
Military Child Education Coalition

Click photo for screen-resolution imageRyane Howry said the Student-to-Student program helps kids get through school and helps prevent many problems. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageChad Thomas, 16, a junior at Randolph High School in Universal City, Texas, chats with retired Army Col. Paul Callen, the Military Child Education Coalition's Student-to-Student project director, after performing a skit about the S2S program at his school. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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