A Colorado Springs-area student was recently one of 10 military-connected teenagers selected for a national program aimed at shaping future leaders.
Cassandra Nelson, a junior at Widefield High School, attended the Frances Hesselbein Student Leadership Program at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point this month.
The weeklong, biannual program, spearheaded by the Military Child Education Coalition, is for high school sophomores and juniors who are members of the coalition’s Student to Student program at their schools, officials said. Students selected during the fall attend the program at West Point; those selected in the spring attend at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The fall class was composed of students from seven states.
“Over the years, this program has enriched the lives of so many students and S2S programs,” said coalition president and CEO Dr. Becky Porter. “We are excited to be part of their journey.”
The Student to Student program, or S2S, helps ease the often stressful transition process for military kids entering a new school, said counselor Gregory Morris, who coordinates the Widefield program.
“When a new kid comes, we give them a tour, they have a friendly face to talk to, to sit with them at lunch, help them get to class,” he said.
Being the “new kid” at a large school can be a bewildering experience, especially for children of military service members, who often have to uproot their families in the middle of a school year. When that happens, a student can feel disoriented and friendless as they resume their academic year at a new school. The S2S program is designed to make a new student feel welcome from the moment they first walk in the door, Morris said.
“People talk about supporting our troops, and that’s important, but how do we support their families, the parents and kids who are at home?” Morris said. “This initiative was created to support kids who have to transition to a new school where they don’t usually know anyone.”
“We’re not just for military students,” said Nelson, whose father is retired Army. “We are here for all incoming students, to give them a support system they can lean on when they need us.”
Morris recruited Nelson for the S2S program when he heard she had reached out to a new student and helped show her around the school.
“We’re always looking for kids who are willing to help someone out without being told to do it,” he said. “I thought she would be a natural. And she is.”
Morris quickly realized Nelson was a standout team member and encouraged her to apply for the leadership program.
“She’s a fantastic kid,” Morris said. “I thought the program would be a great experience for her.”
When she arrived at West Point, Nelson was impressed by the size and opulence of the military campus — “It was so pretty,” she said — as well as the helpfulness of the cadets.
During the conference, she enjoyed the West Point atmosphere, interacted with future soldiers, sat in on seminars and participated in a series of leadership, teamwork and trust-building exercises.
“It was a great week,” Nelson said.
Nelson, 16, said she hopes to use her experience to help other Widefield students become better leaders.
“I want to take what I’ve learned and help instill it in other people,” she said. “That would really help us build a better S2S program.”