LEESVILLE, La. (Fort Polk Progress) - The first day of school can be a dreaded one for new students - especially military children - as they adapt to different academic requirements, meet new people and start over in a learning environment they are unfamiliar with.
Leesville High School (LHS) students are taking on the roles of Student 2 Student (S2S) mentors to ease this transition for incoming students as the start of the academic year approaches.
S2S is a Military Child Education Coalition endeavor that is student-led, with established students volunteering as mentors to guide incoming students, primarily military kids from Fort Polk, at their schools as they adapt to their new school system.
Chance McGlothlin, LHS academic advisor and S2S sponsor, said the goal is to achieve 100 percent acceptance for new students through the S2S program.
"Our main mission is just to aid in transition," McGlothlin said. "Forty percent of our students are military dependents, and with the transitions come additional obstacles, including making new friends and trying to figure out what they're supposed to do each day. LHS has a welcoming attitude and environment, and S2S lets the incoming students have a more relatable person to count on. It's a student who can really relate to some of the things they have gone through, especially if the mentor is military dependent."
The first outreach efforts for S2S mentors will take place during the LHS Back-to-School days taking place next week where students will get IDs, lockers, books and more. The event takes place from 9 a.m.-noon on July 30 for seniors, July 31 for juniors, Aug. 1 for sophomores and Aug. 2 for freshmen.
S2S mentors will be present each day to welcome new students, give them a tour of the campus and answer any questions they may have.
However, S2S mentors are available throughout the school year to welcome incoming students. McGlothlin is notified when new students register at LHS and he pairs them up with an S2S mentor on their first day.
The S2S mentor walks them through the process of getting lockers and books, as well as guide them through their school schedules, touch base with them throughout the day, and have lunch with them.
"If a student is not in the right frame of mind or has unresolved issues that need to be addressed as they transition to a new school, we can try to educate them all we want but it's not going to stick," McGlothlin said. "By aiding in that transition and working with our Military Family Life Counselor and Military Student Transition Consultant, we hope that we can really make a difference when our students are moving in and out of Fort Polk."
McGlothlin pairs up S2S mentors with students based on their personalities and interests.
"We try to pair them up the best we can with students who will be able to relate with them, but also maybe kind of push them a little bit to get out of their comfort zones," McGlothlin said. "We want every student who comes to LHS to feel welcomed and accepted. We hope when they do leave or graduate from here that they truly feel that whole motto of, 'Once a Wampus Cat, always a Wampus Cat.'"
He said this year the S2S program is aiming to have breakfast and lunch meetings every six weeks with new students to interact through different icebreaker activities and talk about how the school year is going for them so far.
Tyler Reeks, a LHS junior, looks forward to continuing his role as a S2S mentor this year.
"I want to make new students feel like they are at home and that the people here are trustworthy, as well as for them to feel good about being here and not be sad," Reeks said.
He decided to become a S2S mentor at the beginning of 2018.
"I just figured it was right up my alley. I like meeting people, and it makes me happy knowing that I'm positively affecting someone," Reeks said. "I'm a people person."
Reeks said the S2S experience has been great.
"I've met a lot of new people from various places," he said. "I've been able to see them adjust here, be comfortable, smile and laugh and just have a good time here. That's important to me."
This school year, Reeks wants to plan more events.
"I hope to put together events and groups where we take all the new kids who have been established and do things outside of school, like maybe take them to the bowling alley, movies or someplace fun," he said.
Being part of S2S is rewarding for Reeks.
"I like to see the impact that we can make, not just me but the whole S2S, and see what we can do," Reeks said. "We want these kids to feel adjusted and comfortable where they are, and just see the impact we can make in their lives."
McGlothlin hopes incoming students will feel this impact right as they start school.
"I hope they come and they have a good first day," McGlothlin said. "I really think that sets the tone for their whole experience at Fort Polk and Leesville High School."