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Teenagers work one-on-one during times of transition

Discovery eighth-grader Ethan Ries, at left, and James Clemens sophomore Spencer Davis talk about their latest session with Student 2 Student. (Photo by Jen Detulleo, JFD Photography & Design)
Discovery eighth-grader Ethan Ries, at left, and James Clemens sophomore Spencer Davis talk about their latest session with Student 2 Student. (Photo by Jen Detulleo, JFD Photography & Design)

MADISON – Teenagers often are labeled as uncaring egocentrics. However, middle- and high-school youth in Madison are shattering that stereotype by serving in “Junior Student 2 Student” and “Student 2 Student” (JS2S/S2S).

JS2S for grades 7-8 and S2S for grades 9-12 respond to critical needs for transitioning students. They welcome incoming students to their new school and help departing students prepare for their next school.

These mentoring groups “consist of military-connected and civilian students who establish and sustain this school-sponsored program,” Cindy V. Davis said. Davis works as District At-Risk Counselor for Madison City Schools.

One hallmark of this successful program has been the encouragement for “100 percent acceptance, (which) brings military-connected and civilian kids together,” Davis said.

The members quickly bring transitioning students relevant information from a credible source: another student. They “immediately establish a peer relationship, thereby helping students to gain greater confidence, enhance their comfort level and increase well-being while they adjust,” Davis said.

In 2004 the Military Child Education Coalition established the Student 2 Student initiative and now provides trainers and materials to area schools. A “military student transition consultant” for the coalition works in Madison, Madison County and Huntsville school districts, Davis said.

In 2014 Sharon Willis, At-Risk Coordinator for Madison City Schools, wrote and received a Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) grant for secondary schools. “One goal for the grant was to improve perceptions of classroom learning for military-connected students and engage them in the school community,” Willis said.

To enact this goal, one of Davis’ duties as district at-risk counselor is to oversee implementation and support these two programs.

JS2S/S2S sponsors are Benita Tunstill and Assistant Principal Dr. Kary Roberts, Liberty Middle School; Sara Baragona and Melissa Grayson, Discovery Middle School; Bridget Drummond, Bob Jones High School; and Lana Meskunas and Kara Lingerfelt, James Clemens High School.

Redstone Arsenal contact Barbara Williams acts as school liaison officer and schedules military personnel to mentor students. Williams helped start JS2S/S2S training in Madison.

School counselors and registrars notify sponsors about new students. Sponsors then choose a member to meet the new student, give a tour and answer questions, Spencer Davis said. He is a James Clemens sophomore and S2S member.

“JS2S/S2S also invite all new students to social events throughout the school year,” Liberty eighth-grader Emily Mefford said. S2S groups assist with new student orientations, schedule service projects for causes like the Giving Tree and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and celebrate Military Child Appreciation Month in April.

Most frequently, “JS2S/S2S explain academic expectations, like tests/assessments, report cards/grading, enrichment support and teachers’ personalities,” Discovery eighth-grader Ethan Ries said. They also encourage relationships in a peer group and orient ‘newbies’ to school culture.

A former student at Bob Jones shared his S2S connection in a coalition publication. “As the son of a career soldier, I have moved 13 times. My ability to change and adapt made all the difference in the world to my success,” the former student said.

This student transitioned in 2011 to Bob Jones, “one of the largest high schools in Alabama. S2S hugely impacted that transition … and encouraged me to become an active participant in the high school and in my community.”

This student was encouraged to join the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, varsity lacrosse team and eventually S2S as a member for two years. This student credits the mentoring group with his selection as a delegate to Alabama Boys State, Alabama Youth Council and Madison City Schools Advisory Board.

“S2S changes lives and shapes the next generation … in a very real and positive way,” the former student said.

For more information, visit militarychild.org/parents-and-students/programs/student-2-student.

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