Right Start Program volunteer Michael Sanders waits while volunteer Kayla Loisel, 11th grade, passes out information about Yokota Air Base to some students new to Yokota Middle School.

Right Start Program volunteer Michael Sanders waits while volunteer Kayla Loisel, 11th grade, passes out information about Yokota Air Base to some students new to Yokota Middle School. (Jim Schulz / S&S)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — All that moving around can be tough on military kids. With that in mind, Yokota officials launched a unique program this summer aimed at easing the transition process.

Every Thursday for the past 10 weeks, a different batch of new arrivals entered Right Start for Youth, which offered students in sixth through 12th grades a chance to hear about Yokota regulations, job opportunities, Japanese culture, base schools and Air Force terminology. They also got a chance to make new friends.

“Military-connected youth move about three times more often than other youth,” said Lee Andersen, the 374th Mission Support Group’s school liaison, who came up with the idea for Right Start. “While the transition process may be beneficial, it also can have detrimental effects on youth. This was developed to meet the transitioning needs of the youth during the summer months.”

Yokota already had a Right Start effort in place for military members and spouses but nothing for young dependents. “We tried to mirror what that was doing, but with topics of interest to youth,” she added.

Kayla Loisel, a Yokota High School junior and summer hire who assisted with Right Start for Youth, said she did some research and found no similar program in the entire U.S. military.

“I looked online and couldn’t find any other start-up programs like this,” she said. The Yokota program, she said, “was all about getting to know new kids — and watching them open up.”

The high school and middle school at Yokota feature established orientation programs to facilitate transitions during the year, Andersen said.

Each Thursday since the end of last school year, Andersen and a handful of teenage assistants staged Right Start for Youth, with an average of four to five new students turning out for each session. To advertise the free program, they designed posters and pamphlets.

Right Start was fully funded by the 374th Airlift Wing, Andersen said.

“It’s harder to meet new friends during the summer,” said Sabrina Lucas, a Yokota junior and summer hire who also pitched in. “This helps them.

“The new kids would start out real quiet. Midway through the day, they’d open up and start having fun.”

The seven-hour sessions began at Yokota Middle School in the morning and were capped by lunch at the Yokota Community Center, where participants received behind-the-scenes tours of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, including the store surveillance systems and commissary freezers.

In between, the group rode the base shuttle and visited the Teen Center, Family Support Center, and Health and Wellness Center, which provided information about the dangers of obesity and smoking.

“They learned about curfew and some things to stay away from,” Andersen said. “The life skills people talked about handling stress in a new environment overseas. There was a variety of learning and fun mixed together.

“Everything youth can do on base, we covered.”

Right Start for Youth received lunch coupons from AAFES officials, free bowling tickets from the Officers’ Spouses Club, movie passes from the Mayor’s Club, pens and pencils from the schools and 374th Services Division, and a coupon to the Middle School store. Wing officials furnished refreshments.

Ron Hayhurst, an 11th-grader at Yokota who volunteered each week, was among those who introduced the newcomers to Japanese culture.

“It was fun,” said Hayhurst, who even donned Mission Oriented Protective Posture gear on one occasion in a visual demonstration. “It was a good opportunity to meet new people, so I kept coming back.”

Many parents wondered why the program was limited to students in grades six through 12 and not offered to younger children as well, Andersen said.

“Sometimes, it’s more difficult for older kids to bond with friends,” she said. “Younger ones are always out in the neighborhoods meeting friends on the playgrounds and elsewhere. This was for ID card-carrying kids who could actually get around the base. The main goal was to get them acclimated to all aspects of it. We wanted to help them meet new people and get to know the lay of the land.”

Andersen said she hopes to see Right Start for Youth continue in the future. “Most youth feel they got something out of the program,” she said. “They all feel as though they have made new friends for the rest of the summer and for the upcoming school year. It’s a great program, and it would be nice if other bases started it as well.

“Being a military kid can be difficult sometimes. I’ll do anything I can to make it easier for them.”

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