It’s not an easy task to walk into a high school of over 1300 other teenagers as a transfer student, brand new and without knowing anyone. At Salem High, that task is a little easier thanks to guidance counselor Regina Meredith’s “Ambassador” program.Forty-one established students, from sophomores to seniors, have volunteered to welcome transfer students into their hallways, their social networks, and most importantly, their lunchroom.
“I just didn’t know what to expect,” said David Morrison, a freshman who transferred from Staunton River Middle School. His ambassador, sophomore Thomas Kelly, showed up to his second period class, pulled Morrison out to talk for a second, and invited Kelly to sit with him at lunch that day.
When lunchtime came around, Kelly looked for Morrison in the sea of 400 people. He’d just started running a couple of errands to the office and guidance office, when Morrison found him.
“Well, are we having lunch together or what?” Morrison said. Kelly was his first point-person at Salem High School.
Junior Jennifer Jordan was a transfer student herself last year. She participated in group sessions the guidance office offered to transfers last year that focus on transitioning as a new student and becoming part of the school community. It inspired her to be an ambassador for other new students this year.
“You worry about getting in with the wrong crowd,” Jordan said. “And you worry about being judgmental, too.” So an established student can help them navigate the social network and “show them how nice people are here.” Plus, for some students from small schools, the hallways can be tricky to maneuver in their five allotted minutes between classes at first.
“They are going to meet all kinds of students,” Meredith said. “They’re actually taking a step outside of their own comfort zone.”
Meredith’s idea came from a conference she attended in Atlanta in June 2008. She was impressed by this one counselor’s phenomenal presentation of the program. Meredith took the idea home to Salem High and Central Office with a few tweaks, and they started working on it.
She also worked with Mike Stevens to put together a DVD about Salem High and the Salem community for new students – one they can mail to transfers before they even start packing their stuff to head to Salem. They’ve also posted the video on YouTube – find it by searching for “Welcome to Salem High School.”
“I wanted them to sit down before they ever came into the school and think that ‘wow – this place is going to be great for me,’” Meredith said.