Fifth grader Sabine Madison knows how overwhelming changing schools can be for military students.
Finding new friends, adjusting to a new setting and the sadness that comes with leaving behind friends and family are all too familiar to him.
The Milam Elementary School student is among dozens of elementary, middle and high school students who are undergoing training to learn how to help their military-connected peers adjust to a new school and city.
The Ambassador Program, a project of the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) 8 grant, has been established at 26 EPISD campuses that enroll the highest concentration of military-connected students.
“I like helping new students out and show where to go and what to do,” said Sabine, whose father is in the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy. “If they’re sad, I’ve had the same experiences, so I can cheer them up. I know it’ll get better for them. That’s why want to be student ambassador.”
The DoDEA grant, which is being administered at 19 elementary, four middle and three high schools, reinforces the District’s focus on social emotional learning.
“The connection for Social Emotional Learning in this program is that students are going to feel connect to one another,” said Ericka Armendariz, DoDEA 8 coordinator. “When you have military students transitioning into a new school setting, into a new city, into a new state, they feel overwhelmed. The transition is huge for them, so in this program we are developing a support system, a buddy system. When come into a new campus, they will feel welcomed and at ease and that they belong right away.”
Armendariz and Dwain Gulley, a school liaison officer at Fort Bliss, joined together to offer training to campuses involved. Each campus team includes up to four students and an administrator or other sponsor from the campus. Previously, Fort Bliss had trained middle and high school campuses for a similar Ambassador Program. With DoDEA 8, the training has been extended to elementary schools.
“It’s important that EPISD and Fort Bliss collaborate with the Student Ambassador program,” Gulley said. “EPISD has large numbers of military-connect kids and we have a lot of transition. It’s really important to make sure our military-connected kids are welcomed and well-informed.”
The average military-connected student moves six to nine times during their K-12 years. Students faced with frequent moves must constantly integrate into a new educational system, new community and find new friends.
“We have students coming in from all over the country, and we want them to know the resources on the campus right away,” Powell Elementary principal Andrew Veilleux said. “While they can talk to adults on campus, the kids want to talk to each other and learn from each other.”
Although not a requirement, most ambassadors are military-connected students.
“In some cases, even at the elementary level, this is the third or four school they’ve been to,” Veilleux said. “They don’t feel sense of belonging. It’s important that when they come on campus, they can have someone to immediately identify with.”
Deliah Burr, a 4th grade student at Powell, also is military-connected. She hopes to befriend new students and show them around the campus.
“I think I can help them by being their friend,” she said. “Moving is a pretty hard challenge. It means leaving other stuff behind like friends and family. I’ll be talking to them so they won’t be so sad.”