WIESBADEN, Germany -- "I've moved a lot and I know what it feels like to be the new kid."
That's how Wiesbaden Middle School sixth-grader Karissa Schnitz described the desire to help other newcomers in the Junior Student-2-Student program.
Schnitz and a group of fellow middle and high school students spent several hours Nov. 19-21 at the Wiesbaden Teen Center learning about the Military Child Education Coalition Student-2-Student program and brainstorming about ways to help newcomers feel welcome upon arrival at their new school in Wiesbaden.
"Several years ago MCEC decided to add sixth-eighth-grade students as well to the Student-2-Student program," said Peter Witmer, U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden school liaison officer. As such Student-2-Student was broadened to extend beyond high school into the middle school.
"This is all part of the Total Army Sponsorship Program," Witmer said, explaining that military leaders have been working on enhancing the sponsorship effort to encompass all members of the Army Family including service members, spouses and children.
"The Parent-2-Parent group, another component of the MCEC in Wiesbaden, is co-facilitating the training," he said.
While the worldwide Student-2-Student program has been in existence for many years, "the way it is tailored in each school is different. It is adapted to meet student interest," Witmer said. "The biggest challenge is to keep the program fresh."
That's one of the reasons why Witmer and Parent-2-Parent members focused on reaching out to welcome back former middle and high school Student-2-Student participants plus new program members. "Retraining and re-energizing are critical on an annual basis because of people moving," he said.
The intent of the program is to offer young people easy access to wherever they transition -- whether new to a Department of Defense Dependents School in Europe or making the move from overseas back to a stateside school. With Student-2-Student sponsors in place, newcomers are welcomed with open arms, a steady flow of useful information, an open ear and someone to serve as a guide.
"If people contact us in advance of coming here (by calling the schools as soon as they know they are set to move) we can help them by engaging in almost any direction," Witmer said. "If you know someone here before you get here, it makes it a lot easier."
"I'm really happy to be here," said eighth-grader Emilie Hollingsworth. "I think it's a great program. I think it will make their entrance here awesome."
Hollingsworth said she learned a lot during the training about making newcomers feel comfortable upon their arrival. "I learned a lot about what people want and what they need when they come here."
Her secret (and a core Student-2-Student reminder): "Food, facts and fun."
"I see this program as a way to help people out," added Schnitz.
"A lot of people on the first days of school need help making friends," said seventh-grader Aubrey Shields, explaining that some of the ways for helping ease their apprehension might include "inviting them to parties, introducing them to your friends and listening to their interests."
"I came at the beginning of last year and didn't know anyone or have anyone to show me around," said Michele Perry, seventh grade. "I know what it's like to be brand new and I really want to help others."
Perry, who said she's been to five or six different schools so far, said moving overseas was probably the most challenging as a newcomer -- "a new school and a new environment."
"Most people, when they are moving, are most worried about finding new friends," said Witmer.
"It's hard anytime you make a transition," said Dr. Susan Hargis, Wiesbaden Middle School principal, pointing out that for a youngster, age 11-13, it can be especially challenging. "It takes time to grow -- time to connect."
Hargis praised the efforts of the students who were either recommended by their teachers or volunteered to serve in the program. "Your teachers saw something in you. Open that heart; you have the spirit. Let this new child, who may be scared to be here, see the spark that your teachers saw."
For more information about the Student-2-Student program contact the Wiesbaden Middle or High School or visit the Military Child Education Coalition website at www.militarychild.org/parents-and-students/programs/student-2-student.