Ask an expert - Club Central

When Jarrar Salam transferred to Hinsdale Central High School from a boarding school in Connecticut, he had never attended a public school before. Compared to his school of 200-some students, his Central seemed huge and overwhelming, Salam said.

It was the Ambassadors Club that helped him navigate his new surroundings and to become comfortable as a member of the Red Devil community.

Club sponsor Donna Wheeler said about 50 to 60 ambassadors help 60 to 80 new students throughout each year at Central.

Each new student is assigned at least one ambassador to show them around the school, walk them from class to class and sit with them at lunch.

"Lunch can be the most stressful time of the day for any student," Wheeler said.

Ambassadors also are available to answer questions and to act as a resource as new students become familiar with their new environment.

"The best thing is the ability to have a direct impact on people," said Sheza Shafi. She was Salam's ambassador, but today, she considers herself his friend.

Ambassadors help students coming to Central from other schools, other towns, other states, and even other countries. Sometimes, students simply need help navigating hallways and meeting new students and teachers. Others are encountering an entirely new culture or new language. A few students new to the school this year had never heard of homecoming and didn't understand things like spirit week, club members said.

Wheeler said transfer students who start at the beginning of the school year meet their ambassador even before orientation. They know even before their first class that they have someone to turn to who will guide them through the unfamiliar. Ambassadors plan occasional events throughout the year to involve new students. They'll attend a football game as a group or plan an event, such as pumpkin carving, just for new students and their ambassadors.

When Valentine's Day comes around, the ambassadors make sure no new student is left empty handed as classmates exchange greetings and gifts.

"It made them so happy," ambassador Yusra Baig said.

There's no limit to how long a student can turn to their ambassador as a resource, but junior Sakina Zahra Akbar said most students find their place, and their own friends, within the first year. Club President Rajas Visal said he felt a real sense of satisfaction when he spotted a student who he had helped as an ambassador enjoying his own group of friends.

Shanoor Shafi, Sheza's sister, said her family moved to Hinsdale from India when she and her sister were in elementary school. As an ambassador, Shanoor said she tries to remember what it was like to be the new kid in a strange place.

"We talk about empathy a lot," Shanoor said.

Sophomores, juniors and seniors are selected as ambassadors each spring and must complete training in the months between then and the next school year. Wheeler said students participate in discussions, role playing, team building and other activities.

"It's a commitment," said Wheeler, who oversees the club along with co-sponsors Angie Matos, a school counselor, and school psychologist Deanne Doherty.

Even coming from a school just a few miles away can be a big adjustment, said Sakina Zahra Akbar, who transferred to Hinsdale Central from Lemont. But knowing someone among a sea of unfamiliar faces helped a lot.

"You already know you're going to be taken care of," she said.

- by Sandy Illian Bosch

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean