Aloha Ambassadors provide support, assimilation tools to aid new students

| May 27, 2016 | 0 Comments
Ariana Olivera (left) and Gabriella Barba, perform a hula for teachers, senior commanding officers, guests and other students celebrating the end of the school year for the Aloha Ambassadors program at Wheeler Middle School, May 19. Olivera and Barba are also ambassadors with the program, which pairs students together to make moving to Hawaii easier.

Ariana Olivera (left) and Gabriella Barba, perform a hula for teachers, senior commanding officers, guests and other students celebrating the end of the school year for the Aloha Ambassadors program at Wheeler Middle School, May 19. Olivera and Barba are also ambassadors with the program, which pairs students together to make moving to Hawaii easier.


Christine Cabalo

Staff Writer
WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD — Wheeler Middle School students are leading the way in spreading the aloha spirit to transferring students with the Aloha Ambassadors program developed by the school’s teachers.

Students and teachers celebrated the end of the program’s first year in practice during a luncheon held at the school, May 19.

Kiera Orlowski, who developed the program, and her sister supporting the program, Maggie Gallagher, were honored with certificates of appreciation from Maj. Gen. Charles Flynn, commanding officer, 25th Infantry Division and senior commander, U.S. Army Hawaii.
“I especially wanted to express my thanks to you for the program,” Flynn said. “In (the students’) faces, in their eyes, you see yourself. You went above and beyond, doing something beyond teaching in the classroom.”

Kiera Orlowski (left) and her sister Maggie GallagherÊreceive certificates of appreciation from Maj. Gen. Charles Flynn, commanding officer, 25th Infantry Division, May 19. Orlowski and Gallagher, both teachers at Wheeler Middle School, developed the new Aloha Ambassadors program pairing transitioning students together.

Kiera Orlowski (left) and her sister Maggie Gallagher receive certificates of appreciation from Maj. Gen. Charles Flynn, commanding officer, 25th Infantry Division, May 19. Orlowski and Gallagher, both teachers at Wheeler Middle School, developed the new Aloha Ambassadors program pairing transitioning students together.

Recognizing challenges
Orlowski and Gallagher are teachers at the school and experienced frequent relocations growing up when they were military children. Orlowski said there was a point in her student life where she went to three different middle schools in three years.

“In that situation, you can feel like you don’t belong,” Orlowski said. “After a move to a new place, you can feel lost. It’s important to have peer programs, and I was inspired to create a program for kids. It can make a big difference to see a friendly face during lunch and recess. Students can feel excited about living in a new place.”

Student-led initiative
Aloha Ambassadors pairs a new transferring student to another student already attending the school.
Orlowski said students are matched through common interests or experiences. The students also gather monthly for a seminar to build resilience skills and develop the program.

Aloha Ambassadors is modeled after the Student 2 Student program from the Military Child Education Coalition and the principles of the Stanford University method’s peer program.

Students at Wheeler Middle School prepare goodie bags to welcome transitioning students for the Aloha Ambassadors program. The bags feature Hawaiian cookies, chocolates and other local treats to give to new students on their first day at school.

Students at Wheeler Middle School prepare goodie bags to welcome transitioning students for the Aloha Ambassadors program. The bags feature Hawaiian cookies, chocolates and other local treats to give to new students on their first day at school.

Orlowski said it was important for Aloha Ambassadors to be a student-led initiative, having students brainstorm to directly guide the program.

“This helps a new student feel part of a team and feel part of something special,” Orlowski said. “It’s a comforting feeling to have for the first day of school.”

Cultural component
Although Aloha Ambassadors was inspired from the Student 2 Student program, it uniquely embraces Hawaii’s cultural ideas of ohana and aloha spirit. New students receive goodie bags with Hawaiian cookies and sweets as an introduction to the culture, and they learn to appreciate them.

“One of the best things about Hawaii is how much cultural tradition stays,” said sixth-grade student Emma Mark.

After starting at Wheeler Middle School in January 2016, eighth-grade student Lily Disque said she’s met great new people through Aloha Ambassadors. She said having a program like this is needed in all schools, not just military child-heavy schools.

“It’s important for people like us to have a program like this, especially on the first day when you don’t know anyone,” Disque said. “It can feel negative. With Aloha Ambassadors, I had an awesome first day, and even with this big change, it helps you to see the good things and move on for the rest of school year.”

Students at Wheeler Middle School hold up goodie bags made by other students in the Aloha Ambassador program. Students currently attending the school are matched up by common interests and experiences with incoming students to help them adjust to a new school.

Students at Wheeler Middle School hold up goodie bags made by other students in the Aloha Ambassador program. Students currently attending the school are matched up by common interests and experiences with incoming students to help them adjust to a new school.

Orlowski said the program helps both students who are in transition and those who live in Hawaii who often say goodbye to relocating friends. Many enjoy discovering Hawaii’s environment.
“Anything you can think of doing, you can do here,” said sixth-grade student and Aloha Ambassador Nate Larson. “I really like the beaches and hikes.”

Although most clubs at the middle school are aimed at eighth-grade students, the Aloha Ambassadors club was expanded to younger children. Several are sixth-grade students of Gallagher’s who can easily identify and connect with students their age.

“If you come and think there’s nothing to do and feel alone, it’s not true,” said sixth-grade student Justin Baxter. “There are many others who care, even the military men and women around you.”
Orlowski said she’s proud of how much the students have developed and how the students tapped into their collective strength of helping others.

Coordinators are also working with Leilehua High School to bring the program to older students. Many of the students in the program said joining has introduced them to new and sometimes amazing friends.
“In Hawaii, everyone is part of an ohana,” said sixth-grade student Divanni DeJesus. “Be comfortable and confident. If you introduce yourself to someone, you’ll meet so many genuine and nice people.”

Kiera Orlowski, an eighth-grade teacher at Wheeler Middle School, (left) helps guide Wheeler students during a Peer Leadership seminar for the Aloha Ambassadors program. The students learned how to introduce themselves and be personable.

Kiera Orlowski, an eighth-grade teacher at Wheeler Middle School, (left) helps guide Wheeler students during a Peer Leadership seminar for the Aloha Ambassadors program. The students learned how to introduce themselves and be personable.

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Category: Community, Education

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