The new kid in school typically has trouble getting their locker open or sometimes finding the right classroom. They often sit by themselves during lunch and talk little to others during the school day.
Three years ago, Wapakoneta Middle School students took full ownership of a program to break down those barriers — the Ambassador’s Club — which helps new students become acclimated with the school and intermingle with other students.
“You get to show new students around the school,” fifth-grader Gwen VanVorhees said, explaining they sit with them during lunch for a week to help.
“I showed a new student his class and introduced him to most of the teachers,” classmate Caige Scharre said at a lunch table set up to sell bracelets for breast cancer awareness. “I showed him where everything is in the school.”
Lauren Winget remarked how much fun it is help people out, while Mayra Aguirre commented how nice it is to make new friends.
The Wapakoneta Middle School Ambassador Club resulted from meeting one of the challenges in Rachel’s Challenge, a program started by family members of Rachel Scott who was the first person killed at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.
In May 2011, Rachel’s uncle, Larry Scott, spoke to Wapakoneta Middle School and Wapakoneta High School students about Rachel’s acts of kindness and compassion and the contents of six diaries she left behind which became the foundation of the Rachel’s Challenge program.
To further help sustain the positive climate change in the schools, Rachel’s Challenge offers a year-long curriculum called the Friends of Rachel (FOR) program that continues training students and plugs them into activities that continue the chain reaction of kindness.
Wapakoneta Middle School guidance counselors Mark Koch and Kristi Fisher latched onto the program and decided to meet the challenge with the help of 36 students at the school.
“Basically, when we have a new student, members of the Ambassador’s Club show them around, take them to their locker, to and from different places on their schedule, they give them a safe place to eat at lunch and they introduce them to their teachers and to other students,” Fisher said. “They get them through the first couple days of school until they know their way around.”
Fisher and Koch decided the club works well and the students respond more positively because the students are helping students instead of having adults showing them the school.
“We have noticed the new kids who come into the school are much more relaxed by the end of the week, they know where they are going and they have met more kids,” Fisher said. “Another thing we do is we wrote a grant and we have T-shirts and the new kids get one because we all wear Redskins stuff on Friday.”
To become part of the Ambassador’s Club, students must fill out applications and then the students are selected at the beginning of the school year.
Along with helping new students, Fisher and Koch have noticed the program has had a positive influence on club members, too.
“I joined this because I really like helping people out so they are not lost in school and can make new friends,” Hannah Knueve said.
“I just thought I could help,” Gwen said. “My grandma says I have a lot of little cousins that I help take care of and she told me I was really good with kids and that I could help.”
For Lauren the benefit of helping a new student paid immediate dividends.
“I get new friends out of doing this, and you could help your friends make a new friend by introducing them to the new friend you just made.”