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Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg launched a multilingual ambassador program this school year as a way to make new students from other countries feel more comfortable entering a new school.
The program matches foreign students with a peer who speaks the same language. It began as a pilot program with one ambassador last school year before being made official by the school administration.
“It’s pretty scary whenever you come to a new place and you don’t know the language,” student ambassador Jazmin Ambrocio said. “Knowing that you have these people or these ambassadors that can help you, guide you to school and take you to all your classes, I think it’s pretty cool.”
All the students enrolled in the program are also part of the English language learning program at the school, receiving direct instruction and practice as they get accustomed.
Program coordinator and teacher Rebecha Catlett says it not only helps new students feel more accepted, but also helps them settle into day-to-day life at school.
“Having that same language peer meet with them, taking them to all their classes, making sure they know how to order breakfast, making sure they know how to get lunch, where is the library, where’s their bus at the end of the day, introducing them to all of their teachers,” Catlett said. “Those may seem like small things, but those are actually very big things when you’re a new student in a new building.”
Fourteen student ambassadors signed up this year to be a part of the program, with volunteers fluent in Spanish, French, Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Haitian Creole.
One such student involved is Sabrina Antoine, who was part of the school’s pilot program when she first moved into the area. She’s now part of the program as an ambassador and wants to pay it forward.
“When I first came here. I didn’t speak English at all. I didn’t know how to say good morning, anything,” Antoine said. “I just want to be able to make others feel welcome, like you guys did to me.”
Catlett says she’s reached out to other schools in the Eastern Panhandle area in hopes to make the multilingual program take hold elsewhere. She says there has been some interest from other local teachers.
“One of the ambassadors asked me one day at our club meeting, ‘Can we meet the ambassadors from the other schools?’” Catlett said. “And I had to explain that I didn’t think there were ambassadorship programs at other schools. And that sparked a conversation during our meeting about maybe that’s a goal, we should have to inspire other schools to have ambassadorship programs.”
In the meantime, there have been conversations about how to expand the program at Spring Mills High School itself to make school communications for families that speak a different language more accessible.
“The students have generated all sorts of amazing ideas about how to make school communications to families that speak a different language better,” Catlett said. “So, the program is continuing to grow.”
Catlett has since been named Berkeley County’s Teacher of the Year, in part for her efforts organizing the program.