Hundreds of veteran students from McLean and Langley high schools have been receiving training on how to help new transfer students adapt to social and academic life in McLean. The program, called Student Connections, is run by Langley student Emily Newman who says they hope to ease new student fears by pairing them up with an experienced local high schooler who can answer questions and be a familiar face in a sea of students.
The objective of Student Connections is to create an inclusive atmosphere for new students. “It’s basically the inside scoop,” said McLean Student Connections volunteer Elizabeth Jennings. The volunteers will give the transfer students the “low down” on what teenagers in the area do for fun, where they hang out after school and help them navigate the halls of their new high school.
“When you’re not coming from one of the mainstream schools, you need something like this. For new stream kids we want to be their friends and give them our experience,” said Mary Kate Corcoran.
Student Connections is sponsored by the Safe Community Coalition (SCC). SCC is a network of adults, school administrators, parents and local police officials who work together to help provide a supportive and safe drug- and alcohol-free environment for area youth. This is the second year that Student Connections has been headed up by a student, rather than an adult.
NEWMAN SAID she is encouraged by the number of students who have agreed to participate in the program this year and hopes they will be able to expand the program now that they have more participants from the high schools.
Students volunteers fill out a questionnaire detailing the activities they enjoy, listing any foreign languages they speak and what grade they are in. According to SCC official Evelyn Fox, those forms are then broken down by high school and the students are matched with a transfer student that has similar interests or with whom they would be able to communicate in their native tongue, which is important in this area because more than a dozen languages are spoken by the students in the halls of these two schools.
“It’s a really effective program that helps our community directly,” said Newman. “It can make a difference directly in whether they succeed or not.”
Jay Singh, a volunteer from Langley High School said, “In this day and age people don’t care so much about kids. But this way you can get a really close connection with someone and become an integral part of their life.”
He advised his fellow volunteers to introduce the new students to activities that suit their interests or introduce them to someone who engages in that activity and might be able to help them get involved. “Get them into a sport like track where there are a lot of people and they can make friends quickly. But until then, we are their best friends,” said Singh.
This year 170 high school students attended the meetings, according to Irv Auerbach with SCC. “There’s a lot of interest in the program,” said Auerbach.
Before new student orientation, the volunteers attend a group meeting to understand their role, get advice on how to interact with the new student they are paired with and they learn what their limitations are.
Student volunteers engaging in the training sessions this month were taught how to introduce themselves to new students, to avoid labeling students based on first impressions and explored some of the topics that would be of interest to a transfer student.
Corcoran said it can be the simple things that are meaningful to a transfer student. “That first day of school, when you see them in the hall and say ‘hi’ to them. That really makes a difference. They don’t feel alone. They know someone then,” Corcoran said.
Many of the suggested conversation ideas centered around school activities and what to expect — everything from how good is the food in the cafeteria to where to catch late buses. These topics and more were delved into by the student volunteers in preparation for the real questions that will come on Sept. 1 for Langley students and Sept. 3 for McLean students.
Newman cautioned the volunteers during the orientation that there are limits to what they can do and what they should do when dealing with new students in the program. “One thing we cannot handle is depression or anger. You need to tell a coordinator or a guidance counselor who will contact an adult,” said Newman.
ADDITIONALLY, while the student volunteers are expected to introduce new students to their friends and to help expand the new students network of familiar faces, they are not expected to be partnered with the student round the clock. “We’re just here to help the new kids get adjusted because when they have friends they aren’t lonely,” said Corcoran.
Friendships do emerge through the program, according to several students. Corcoran said, “It depends on how much time you spend with them. They could become your best friend if you really click.”
“For the past year I’ve met these kids that I have similar interests with and befriended them and introduced them to my friends. It’s a good feeling to see them adapt so well,” said Jennings. “It’s like a Big Brother, Big Sister program. It’s fun. There’s nothing so bad about meeting a new person,” Jennings said.
Newman said that being a volunteer gives students the opportunity to help guide a transfer student through the social and academic maze of high school, which can make the difference in whether the new student quickly adapts to the new environment and succeeds or whether they fail.