By Don Robbins, Editor, Ho’okele
Radford High School senior Jesse McElhaney knows first-hand how tough it is to frequently move to different states and schools. He explained that as a Navy family member, he has had to attend seven different schools so far.
McElhaney’s father James is a Navy hull maintenance technician first class at Training Support Detachment at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, and the family’s last duty station was at Naval Weapons Station Charleston at Goose Creek, S.C.
Although the frequent moves could be stressful, McElhaney and other students at Radford High School said they appreciate having the effective Radford Transition Center program at a school with a highly mobile military population as they are faced with having to move as their parents change duty stations.
Radford is located near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) and serves many families from the base. JBPHH is also one of 14 bases involved in Operation Live Well’s Healthy Base Initiative, and students explained that the transition center helps provide them with a healthy emotional environment.
The Radford Transition Center is a four-part program partially taught by student “facilitators” to encourage peer-to-peer interaction.
McElhaney, age 16, serves as one of the student peer facilitators helping new students adjust to the school and Hawaii.
“Everyone is really nervous at the beginning. We make them feel like they are welcome here,” said McElhaney. Activities designed to make the new students feel welcome include tours of the campus, games and other anxiety-relieving events.
“We want to make them feel like this is a happy place,” said McElhaney, who plans to attend college and major in either astronomy or astrophysics.
The components of the Radford Transition Center program include looking at Radford High’s rules and activities, coping with stress, exploring the cultural diversity/uniqueness of Hawaii, and developing a student’s academic plan.
The experienced student facilitators also volunteer to serve as “lunch buddies,” sitting and talking with new students during break times to ease their concerns about school.
Being a student facilitator is not a class or credit. It is a volunteer effort by students who give up their school break times to help newcomers. The student-to-student interaction is a vital component of the program, McElhaney emphasized.
The Radford High School Transition Center program serves the needs of all new students, military and civilian, who enroll at Radford High School and assists them throughout the school year. It also provides preparation and a safety net by offering new students the resources, information and support to ensure academic achievement.
About 65 percent of the Radford students are military family members, predominantly Air Force, Navy and Army, said James Sunday, principal of Radford High School. About one-third of the student population at the school rotates out at the end of each school year, he emphasized.
Sunday is himself a Rad-ford graduate who grew up at the former Hickam Air Force Base, and his father served in the Air Force for 30 years.
The Radford Transition Center has been serving students from all walks of life for 11 years now, Sunday explained. It was designed by a team of Radford administration, staff and students in partnership with local military supporters under the umbrella of the Joint Venture Education Forum.
Because Hawaii is so geographically isolated, it’s important to have a place for students to make their transition here less difficult, Sunday added. In the Hawaiian language, the center’s motto is “Malama I Na Haumana,” or “Caring for the Students,” and the students and administrators there say that’s exactly what it accomplishes.
“The Transition Center is giving kids a sense of belonging when they come here,” Sunday said. Besides belonging, the transition center program also provides personal development for student facilitators, as 17-year-old 12th grader Bailey Wells has discovered. Serving as a facilitator has been beneficially to him personally, Wells explained.
“It helps me with my speaking skills. When you are speaking to a room full of people, you need to do it loudly and clearly,” said Wells, whose career goals are to either become a software engineer, screenwriter or video game designer.
Wells is the son of Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Rick Wells of Pacific Air Forces Headquarters.
“This program is great. More schools should have it,” said 17-year-old senior Jacqueline Caicedo, the daughter of Navy Lt. John Caicedo, deputy security officer at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Jacqueline said her dream is to attend college and major in social work so she can help other people.
Another student, Texas-born 16-year-old junior Fallon Villarreal, said that Radford is her fifth school in Hawaii and seventh throughout her life. Villarreal plans to participate in Navy ROTC and become a Navy officer specializing in cyber warfare and intelligence.
“I’m grateful for Radford, because it’s so open and we have a lot to do,” said Villar-real, the child of Senior Chief Electronics Technician Danny Villarreal of Commander, Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet.
David Tom, school liaison officer for Navy Region Hawaii, cited the challenges that military students face, always having to move to a new location and school with their parents as part of the permanent change of station (PCS) process.
“School is such a vital part of their lives,” said Tom, a retired member of the Air Force.
He said that besides making new friends and learning the ropes of the school campus, the transition center program helps students to succeed better academically, socially, personally and emotionally.
Student facilitators in the transition center program also receive supervision from part-time teachers.
The program has been recognized by the Department of Defense and earned recognition from former First Lady Laura Bush in May 2007.