CAMP ZAMA, Japan – When looking to select students for her school’s newly established “ambassador” program last fall, the vice principal at Zama Middle High School knew they would have to possess extraordinary qualities.
The ambassadors would be tasked with representing the student body and answering questions about the school for distinguished guests who visited or toured the campus—a significant responsibility with high expectations. So, Natasha Anderson asked her daughter, Madison, a junior, to recommend some potential candidates.
Madison came back with a list of students, noting each of them for things like their character, personality, perseverance, trustworthiness, leadership, and their problem-solving and communication skills.
Wanting to ensure they were right for the job, Anderson began observing the students for a few weeks both inside and outside of school, and asked teachers and other students for their thoughts on the group. What she learned was that these seven young men and women exuded dignity and held a deep pride not only in their school, but their community as well.
The students—freshman Christopher Waite; junior Gregory Horton; seniors Gabriel Escalera, Jessica Horton, Sarah Ismail and Connor Lape; and senior Ameera Trady, a former member who recently left Japan with her family—expertly balance their academic obligations with their new duty as ambassadors, Anderson said.
“They are doing fabulous,” she said. “They have surpassed my expectations already.”
A similar ambassador program existed at Anderson’s previous school, and establishing one at ZMHS when she came here was a high priority on her to-do list, she said. Giving students the chance to act as representatives for their school teaches them valuable life skills and sets them up to excel as leaders in the future, she added.
Now when visitors come to the school, the ambassadors are there, easily recognizable in their matching maroon polo shirts with the Zama Trojans logo embroidered over the chest. They act as escorts and field questions, which requires them to think on their feet—a task they have shown to be quite adept at, Anderson said.
“I don’t have to worry about them at all, even if I give them the details an hour before an event,” she said. “They look at the whole picture and immediately adjust to the situation without me having to prep them.”
One of the group’s first assignments came last September, when Kathleen Flynn, the wife of Gen. Charles Flynn, commander of U.S. Army Pacific, visited Camp Zama and received an installation tour that included the high school.
“It was a good way to announce to the school that we were ambassadors and we were here to represent the school,” Connor said. “It went really well.”
Gabriel said he was honestly surprised to be chosen to be an ambassador, but he now feels honored to be able to serve as an example to the group and his fellow students.
“This has given me the opportunity to take a further step toward becoming a better person,” Gabriel said. “I know other people are looking up to me.”
When the team is assigned a task, they assess their individual strengths and figure out how they can come together as a whole to accomplish it, Gabriel said. Afterward, they regroup for what is known in the military as an “after-action review” and give each other feedback on what went right and what can be improved on for the future.
Gregory equates his role as an ambassador with being a face of the school and said he sees it as a chance to be a role model to others. Doing this has instilled him with a sense of pride and accomplishment, and has improved his people skills, he said.
“One of the things I always try to do when greeting guests at the school is to make sure to help them feel welcome and as comfortable as possible,” he said.
Like Gabriel, Jessica said she was surprised to be selected for the group. But she felt confident when she saw the six other students who walked with her into Anderson’s office on the day they found out. It was immediately evident to her that they were thriving as a team because everyone had the drive to help people and be leaders, she said.
“I’m excited to meet with my teammates each week to discuss the details on how we’re going to tackle an upcoming assignment,” Jessica said. “Through this experience, I’ve gained an amount of confidence that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Being an ambassador means playing a very important role in the ZMHS community, but has also been good for her self-development, Sarah said.
“This is not only a great opportunity for any interested students to gain leadership and public speaking skills, but it also helps to integrate students and teachers and have them work together to provide a better environment for both,” she said.
The ambassadors are hoping to expand their goals and are doing things like developing an anti-cyber-bullying campaign to raise awareness on what they say has recently become a serious issue. Taking on tasks like this in addition to the group’s regular responsibilities has helped them become better and more adaptive leaders, Connor said.
“If something spontaneous happens, we are all up for the call,” he said.