Buddy program helps newcomers fit in at Kadena school
January 23, 2009
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Surviving high school can be tough — especially when you’re the new kid.
And some Kadena High School students say there’s no time when a new kid’s survival skills matter more than during lunch.
The high school cafeteria is where the social structure of a student body is on full display.
The 2004 film "Mean Girls" sums up the intensity of the lunch period in a scene in which new girl Cady, played by Lindsay Lohan, is given a map of the cafeteria’s seating hierarchy: from jocks to nerds, loners to the queen bees of popularity.
Finding a table where you fit in can be a lonely experience.
"It’s really sucky to sit there and eat by yourself and everyone’s staring at you," said junior Amanda Donoven, 16.
Instead of having to rely on maps, new students at Kadena High School can depend on their peers, thanks to a program that partners them with student mentors who help them learn the ropes.
For freshman Gianna Seisa, 14, having a buddy to tour her around the campus and introduce her to friends helped ease her first-day-of-school jitters.
Seisa, whose dad is a civilian contractor, moved from San Francisco to Okinawa in December.
The Student 2 Student program paired Seisa with Donoven, who welcomed her on her first day earlier this month.
"I felt really comfortable. She acted like I knew her; she was nice and funny, very supportive," Seisa said.
Having Donoven around also meant Seisa wouldn’t have to eat alone.
"Your image of being a loner or images from ‘Mean Girls’ stops because you have someone there," Seisa said.
The S2S program started at Kadena High School in 2005, as part of a Military Child Education Coalition initiative to help high school students transition into new schools, said counselor Stephanie Steadman, who helps oversee Kadena’s program.
The Texas-based coalition is a nonprofit advocacy organization focused on improving educational opportunities for military children affected by deployments and transition.
According to military studies, the average military child will move between four and six times.
The S2S program is offered at Department of Defense Education Activity middle and high schools worldwide.
The Kadena program has about 20 student mentors who were selected based on an application process that judged their commitment and motivation to help others, Steadman said.
Program adviser and Spanish teacher Sergio Mendoza said the S2S interaction helps boost participation in school clubs and sports.
"The jump-start they get from being welcomed by S2S is that new students actually feel more apt to belong and join school activities," Mendoza said.
Mentors attend a two-hour training workshop where they participate in icebreakers, play leadership-building games and gain the tools necessary to help new kids feel comfortable on campus and in a new country.
Mentors said there’s the usual tips they give to new students: where to get bus passes; school rules and schedules; credit requirements; and local sites in town.
Then there’s the crucial advice: Lowerclassmen should avoid bothering the seniors; and information about shortcuts to class; cool teachers; and, most importantly, how to avoid getting trapped in the hallway "mosh pit" between classes.
Even though most military children are used to shuffling around the world, being the new kid never gets old, said Audry Padgett, 16, a senior and a mentor for three years.
As an Air Force brat, Padgett has had to adjust to eight different schools.
"It is really hard the first few weeks to find kids you connect with," Padgett said during a training workshop in November. "I thought it was a good idea to help other people and share what I’ve been through."