Leesville, LA – The Vernon Parish School District (VPSD) conducted Student to Student (S2S) and Junior Student 2 Student (JS2S) training throughout the week of November 18 - 22 at Leesville Junior High School.
Established in 2004, S2S is a student-led program created by the Military Education Coalition (MCEC) and funded through DoDEA Project Level and Project Advance grants, which were applied for by the Vernon Parish School Board (VPSB). The two main goals of the program are to create a welcoming school culture for all students and establish a supportive community climate for all military-connected students.
The high schools at Simpson, Hicks, and Anacoco attended as part of a two-day training program to educate their newly created S2S mentor groups and advisors. Training included: creating a mission statements, goals, and developing a plan-of-action on how they want to welcome new students at their school. While the advisors are available to guide the process, the students are given the tools during the training to be able to lead and develop the program based on what needs they observe at their school.
The training provided students with the groundwork to act as mentors to incoming students and ensure a smooth transition into the school system. For the trainers, Lilla Newton and Zandra Grady from MCEC, this means instilling strong, inclusive leadership skills in the student mentors. Newtown stated, “If nothing else, our goal is for these students to learn to model 100% acceptance. That is the key for the success of transitioning students, 100% acceptance for every kind of child.”
Grady echoed this sentiment, stating, “This program allows military children to come into a new school and immediately be accepted. They have a friendly face at the door to show them around, introduce them to the teachers, eat lunch with them – because you know that’s the number one concern of a parent, ‘who is my child going to sit with at lunch?’ or ‘how do we know they will be able to get on the right bus to get home?’”
There is no formal interview or recommendation process, all students are welcome to volunteer as S2S mentors. This allows schools to develop a diverse community of S2S mentors. Lydia Brown, a freshman at Anacoco High School, found this aspect of the program to be appealing, stating “Anybody can do it and I think that is a great thing. You don’t have to have a certain GPA or be in a specific class to do this, you just have to want to be involved.”
Students had many reasons for wanting to be part of the new program: some wanted to gain more leadership skills, others enjoyed meeting new people, and some simply wanted to make sure incoming students felt comfortable with their new school. Chloe Wilbanks, a junior at Hicks High School, shared that she joined S2S because she “wanted to help students get involved with the school and show them all the opportunities available.”
Others, like Anacoco sophomore Alyssia Gomez wanted to join because of her personal experience being a new student. Her father currently serves in the military, making frequent moves a normal occurrence. She shared, “I know how hard it is to be new and not know what to do… I want to be a guide that can tell new kids all the good things about our school.”
Sue Lopez, a Military Student Transition Consultant (MSTC) for Vernon Parish, attended the training and shared how important it is to have a diverse set of students involved in S2S, stating “You want a mixture of local students with military students, because when they partner together the mentors can create a web of support for the new students coming in, with both local resources and the familiarity of being a military student in transition.”
In addition to including local and military students, the trainers indicated at the importance of including students with different personalities in the program. Zandra Grady, who was an JS2S advisor at Leesville Junior High prior to becoming a trainer for MCEC, shared: “Not all leaders have to be outgoing, boisterous people. They can be the shy children. My first year at JS2S, I had a young girl who was so quiet, but she was the hardest working and she was wonderful one-on-one with new students. Leaders have all types of personalities.”