South Orangetown Central School District

SOMS student ambassadors and bilingual peer leaders

“SOMS is a safe place and you don’t have to be scared to be who you are.”

This is what Kingsley, a seventh-grade Bilingual Peer Mentor volunteer, wants new students to know.

At the start of this school year, South Orangetown Middle School launched two new peer initiatives aimed to strengthen school culture. “We felt that we had a lot of leaders in our school and needed to create more opportunities during the school day to cultivate them,” explained School Prevention Counselor Bobbie-Angela Wong.

The Student Ambassador program is composed of two representatives from each homeroom across grades 6-8, who work closely with Wong and building administrators to lead and promote character education initiatives, serve on interview committees for prospective middle school hires and to provide student input for a variety of school efforts.

The Bilingual Peer Mentor program draws on the expertise of student volunteers who are eager to use their language skills to connect with peers who may be new to SOMS. More than two dozen students have already volunteered and languages spoken include Arabic, French, Hebrew, Hindi, Korean, Swedish and Russian.

Alanis, an eighth grader who is fluent in Spanish, has served informally as a Bilingual Peer Mentor since arriving at SOMS in sixth grade. “I wanted to put my second language to good use and meet new people,” she explained. “It’s important that we have an inclusive environment. Nobody should feel ashamed for speaking another language.”

“Students have opinions. When you are in a school where different languages are spoken, you get to learn a lot of new things about other people’s cultures, which you don’t get if everyone is the same,” noted Olivia, a seventh-grade Student Ambassador.

Kingsley, who speaks English and Mandarin, saw mentorship as an important opportunity to become more connected. “I felt like I wanted to be more involved,” he said. “I try to relate to new people by finding similarities or common interests that we have and then help them learn about SOMS. It makes me feel like more of a part of our school. We can encourage new people to come here–they don’t have to be fearful that people won’t speak their language.”

Ari, an English- and Armenian-speaking sixth grader who serves as both a Bilingual Peer Mentor and Student Ambassador, hopes that even more middle school students will get involved in the years ahead and reflected, “Having a diverse school exposes students to the world and helps them learn to interact with different people.”

Ambassadors and mentors report that they are always looking out for peers who are new or may be struggling. “I look for people who are sitting alone at lunch. That’s how I met my best friend,” Olivia shared.