Niagara Gazette

December 27, 2013

Program helps new Niagara-Wheatfield students adjust quickly

By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Sometimes a little human interaction with a friendly face can make a world of difference, especially to a teenager.

Jaydah Miller, a sophomore student at Niagara-Wheatfield High School, found out quickly this past October just how nice it can be to have someone care about her.

She began September enrolled in Buffalo Public School No. 44 on Broadway. She lived in the city with her friends she’d known for much of her life. She was comfortable. But her family picked up and moved to the Niagara County suburbs and she found herself, after homecoming and spirit week already complete, stepping foot into new, never-before-seen hallways filled with new, never-before-seen people.

“At first, I was like, ‘No!,’” she said. “I’m leaving my friends, I’m starting at a new school. I’m gonna be nervous. I seen all the kids and I said ‘What am I gonna do?.’”

She never even needed to worry, though. Behind the scenes, it turns out, her saving grace was busy preparing for her arrival the day before, ready to make sure the new student didn’t need to be scared to take those first few steps in the hallways.

In anticipation of new transfer students arriving mid-year, Principal Timothy Carter, Career Mentor Lynn Reed and math teacher Ryan Coyne sat down at the beginning of the school year and hashed out a plan to welcome new students in a similar fashion to how colleges greet prospective freshmen.

Using the student council as guinea pigs of sorts, the three constructed the school’s ambassador program, designed to mimic the process colleges and universities use to show off campuses to prospective freshmen and incoming transfer students.

Reed said she’d done enough tours of colleges with her own children to understand the process and formed an ambassador program to keep students coming in from going out of their minds.

“It can be very intimidating for new students, especially at a high school,” Reed said. “We have a great group this year in student council. They make it work.”

Six students have been welcomed by the ambassadors so far this year, but none have been as significant as Miller, the group’s first. Paired with junior Alexis Watters, she’s transitioned from a nervous wreck to a potential leader herself.

Jaydah’s quick success even drew the attention of Alexis – who goes by Lexi with her friends – after they’d gone through the program and come out the other side with a strong friendship themselves.

“Moving in 10th, 11th grade I think would totally wreck my system,” Alexis said. “I give her a lot of credit being so strong through it.”

Of course, there are two people involved in this evolving process. No two ambassador experience is similar, depending on who provides the tour and who the incoming student is or where he or she came from.

But Alexis’s role in Jaydah’s story comes from a place of understanding. It turns out the connection was strong because Alexis didn’t have to imagine putting herself in Jaydah’s shoes. She’s done relocating herself, though at a much earlier age. But, she said, the experience she had when she was in second grade turned out to be somewhat similar to Miller’s 10th grade transition.

“I wasn’t that nervous,” she said about providing the first tour. “It was more excited. I was the new kid at one point so I put myself in those shoes. When I started at my new school, I met another girl and she helped me out. We’ve been best friends ever since. I just wanted (Jaydah) to have a familiar face in the hallway, wanted to be a person she could come to and feel comfortable with.”

The experience left quite the impression on both of the students, who see each other in the hallways as often as possible considering they’re in two different grade levels. But they still say hello and talk as often as possible. They also see each other in student council, when they get to enjoy themselves.

Yes, Jaydah joined the same group that made her first day as enjoyable as possible. She said she wanted to be part of the group that welcomed her with open arms, made her feel welcome by sending a welcoming presence to meet her at the door.

It may even come full circle over the next two years, where her involvement may help some incoming transfer student who doesn’t know how to handle a new school. But she’s just taking it one step at a time, she said.

Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.