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Mission: Family | Students help military kids feel welcome at new schools

Aug. 7, 2013 - 06:52PM   |  
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Max Imm is not a military kid. But he wants to make life easier for military kids and other newcomers to his high school.

He volunteers for the Student 2 Student program, an initiative of the Military Child Education Coalition that trains students to help guide their peers through their new schools. They answer questions, provide information that sometimes only a peer can provide, and offer friendship. More than 300 S2S programs are active around the world.

“S2S is a different mindset. We’re not in this club because of recognition. We join because we want to help,” said Imm, 16, a junior at Fort Walton Beach High School, Fla., just outside Eglin Air Force Base.

His school’s program was one of five chosen from around the country to represent the S2S program at the Military Child Education Coalition’s training seminar in July.

Many S2S participants are civilian students, but many military students also participate in the program at civilian schools and Defense Department schools. The education coalition launched S2S in 2004.

Not all newcomers are military kids; civilian families move, too. And civilian kids are affected when their military friends move away.

“Being a civilian in a military town, you see just as many people leave as you see come,” Imm said. “I’ve had best friends leaving me left and right. That’s nowhere near what it’s like to have to leave an entire town, but I still have a sense of loss.”

He said his S2S peers have made a difference in his own life. He is heavily involved in school activities, a straight-A student with an infectious, upbeat attitude.

But he was having a hard time earlier this year. In the same week, he and his girlfriend broke up and he lost his job.

“I didn’t know what to do with myself,” he said.

His grades started to drop. Then Jessica, a military kid, stepped in and “called me out on it. She was the previous president of S2S and was training me to take over.”

“If I hadn’t joined S2S, I wouldn’t have had that person to say, ‘Hey, you’re worth more. You don’t need to blame yourself for the loss of the job or the girlfriend.’ ”

He brought his grades back up and got his job back.

Imm recalls that as he was walking one new military kid through his school routine, he sensed that maybe he needed to sit down and talk. The boy had the build for football but said he’d never played sports. So Imm took him to visit the football coach and the wrestling coach, and the student is now interested in both sports.

Imm and the newcomer ate lunch together until he was comfortable on his own. Before the end of the school year, the new boy messaged him to say, “Thanks for being my first friend.”

“That’s what it’s all about ... that I was his friend and he felt welcome,” Imm said. “I tell everybody this is why you should be an S2S member. You’re going to make a difference in somebody’s life ... no matter what it is, no matter how small.”

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