By Military Health System Communications Office
Starting a new school year at a new school is tough for any teenager. Jamie Wadzinski found herself facing this challenge on an island halfway around the world.
Of her initial experience at Radford High School, Hawaii, Jamie said, “I was uncomfortable, and I didn’t know anybody because it was across the ocean from everyone I knew and where I had lived most of my life.” She admitted she hid out in the library and wouldn’t eat lunch because she was afraid to sit alone at the lunch table. “I was shy and scared.”
But that would all change for Jamie, the oldest of eight in this Army family. Four years ago, the family moved from Fort Hood, Texas, to Aliamanu Military Reservation near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, one of 14 bases involved in Operation Live Well’s Healthy Base Initiative. Upon their arrival, a facilitator from the new student program at Radford High School, located off base, offered Jamie an invitation for the Radford “transition center.” Military children make up about 65 percent of the school’s enrollment, but Radford is unique for its student-led program to welcome new arrivals.
“While we serve all the new students coming into the school, we recognized there were unique needs for military students,” said Cindy Schrock, Radford’s transition center coordinator. Based on a program in Alaska that is less student-run, her school started its own program more than 10 years ago. “We know military children coming to Hawaii for the first time can be apprehensive because of the distance from family and that this school is not a Department of Defense school on base. We try to ease those concerns.”
The half-day program at Radford includes several tools to help new students feel welcome, including a campus tour, assistance in getting textbooks, and a lunch buddy program that helps new arrivals make friends. Schrock said students can come back in to the transition center whenever they feel the need. As newbies become oriented, the student facilitators learn important skills, such as mentoring and public speaking that will prove valuable the rest of their lives. “Without our student facilitators, this would be good,” said Schrock. “But they make it great.”
The help provided to the military children is greatly appreciated by officials at the nearby base.
“It’s really great for our military moving in,” said David Tom, the school liaison officer for Navy Region-Hawaii and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. “Hawaii is unique, and this helps eliminate some of the fears and gets the students off to a running start.”
Tom added the students are able to acclimate sooner and focus on their school work, taking one more issue off their military parents’ minds. “All moves are stressful. The transition center just takes away one more worry for students and parents. A number of military-impacted schools have student transition programs, but I believe Radford has taken it to a whole new level.”
Now a senior nearing graduation before moving on to Chaminade University of Honolulu next fall, Wadzinski gained confidence and came out of her shell thanks to the student transition program. She became involved in the marching band, swim team, volleyball, National Honor Society and probably most importantly, serves as a student facilitator herself. She wanted to make sure new students receive the help she got when she arrived four years ago.
“It’s an oasis in a crazy, high school atmosphere,” said Wadzinski. “It helps the new students transition so nobody has to feel alone.”