Leesville, LA – Student 2 Student, a student-led program created by the Military Education Coalition (MCEC), is a prominent fixture at many schools in Vernon Parish. The program is funded at multiple Vernon Parish schools through DoDEA Project Level and Project Advance grants, which were applied for by the Vernon Parish School Board (VPSB). Students involved in the program work to create a welcoming school culture for all students and establish a supportive community climate for all military-connected students.
While a majority of schools consider S2S as a club, Leesville Junior High School takes a slightly different approach for their Junior Student 2 Student program (JS2S), allowing them to increase the scope of their program to include special projects and additional initiatives. Instead of acting solely as a club, the school offers the program as a class, considered an advising hour, where students meet for almost an hour every school day to train, plan events, and complete service projects.
The school currently offers 11 spots in the class, which is filled by both 7
th and 8
th-grade students. While all students are welcome to volunteer with JS2S, LJHS also funnels in students from Vernon Middle School who were involved in their Elementary S2S (ES2S) program. In addition to students with previous S2S experience, the program is proud to have military-connected students in the classroom acting as mentors with firsthand experience in making tough transitions.
Charleigh Travis, an 8
th grade, joined the class after it was recommended to her by LJHS Principal, Roger Atkins. When asked how the program changed her perspective, Charlie shared “S2S taught us how to create an environment where everyone is respected, and everyone can feel included.”
In addition to creating a welcoming environment for incoming students, LJHS’s unique structure allows the students to carry out additional special programming. Once a month, the JS2S mentors eat lunch with all the students who recently transferred to the school. During the lunch, mentors check in with the new students and give a presentation on the school’s clubs, academics, and athletics. Then twice a month, the students go to East Leesville Elementary and read to the first-grade classrooms.
In November the JS2S student mentors attended a training and came back to class with even more ideas on how to improve both their school and their community. Donna Adams, the S2S advisor at LJHS, mentioned that not only did they try to develop special projects to help teachers in their school district, but that students were also discussing service projects that could benefit areas outside of Vernon Parish. She ended by stating, “S2S is a very worthwhile program and I am proud to be a part of it.”
Allie Wittenhagen, an 8
th grader who is in her second year with the program shared that she was glad to be a part of S2S, saying “It has definitely changed me in a good way, it’s made me more open. Before I was in S2S, I might never speak to a new student, but now I know how to be welcoming to everybody.”
While discussing the LJHS S2S program, Fort Polk Progress Chairman Mike Reese had the following to say: “It is exciting to see each of our schools utilize their DoDEA grants to build active and engaged S2S programs and it shows a great commitment from our community to have schools expanding and adapting their programs to better serve both our incoming military students and those without a military connection.”