While every new-to-the-building student is different, there are a handful of key steps that educators can take to ensure that newcomers feel welcome.
Make time for staff-student connections
During the student’s first week of school, set aside a few brief “chat sessions” when you talk informally about how he or she perceives the new school. You may want to ask questions such as:
- What was the best thing that happened in your first few days here? What happened that was not as great?
- Have you connected with other students at lunchtime?
- (For bus riders) How has the bus ride been going?
- Have students reached out to welcome you and include you? What’s something nice that another student has done for you?
- How have things been going in gym class? At recess?
- What’s your favorite school subject?
- What’s something you’ve enjoyed doing in class?
- What’s something that has been hard in class?
- Tell me about your homework assignments. (Hard? Easy? Too much/too many? Turned in on time?)
- (If applicable) How is this school different from the last school you attended?
- What has been confusing or surprising about this school?
- What makes you unique compared to other students here?
- What’s something you’re really good at that your teacher(s) should make sure you get a chance to do?
- Are you interested in joining any extracurricular activities? Let me tell you about some of the opportunities here.
- As your teacher(s), what can I/we do to make you more comfortable in the building?
- When I was new to this building, it helped me to _____________ . Would something like that help you?
- When I was new to this building, I worried that _______________ . Let’s brainstorm together about ways to help with those jitters.
Facilitate student-student connections
Students who are new to the building often benefit from having a “transition pal” or peer mentor who can “show them the ropes.” Nothing can be more intimidating for a new student than not knowing where the bathrooms are or which lunch line in the cafeteria is the best. A trained and supervised youth mentor (whether the same age or older) can give new students a building tour, engage them in school activities and continue to check in with them periodically throughout the year. Even better, mentors can help newcomers begin making friends.
If a new student has transferred into the district, make sure that his/her classmates have a role in extending the welcome. Ask classmates to imagine how they would feel if they were new to the building, and teach concrete behaviors they can use to ease the transition for the new student. Some of these may include:
- Making and autographing a welcome sign or card
- Introducing themselves
- Introducing the new student to one’s friends
- Engaging the new student in conversation, particularly to ask how s/he is doing in the new school and to offer advice
- Inviting him/her to join a lunch table
- Inviting him/her to play at recess
- Helping the teacher give an orientation to classroom/school rules and procedures
Include parents in the transition process
Another great resource for getting to know new students is their parents. If your school hosts an open house at the beginning of the year, seek out these parents. If time at the open house is short, or if a student has transferred in after the year has already begun, arrange a time when you can discuss any concerns they have about the transition. Because students are often hesitant to admit that they’re having a hard time, parents may offer a more honest assessment of how students are dealing with the change.
You may learn that a new student really loves math, but struggles with it, or that he dislikes language arts class, despite being a talented writer. You may be able to suggest extracurricular groups the student would enjoy based on a parent’s suggestions.
Finally, remember to maintain a watchful eye throughout the school year. Check in with the young person and his/her parents to make sure things are going smoothly, and watch how s/he is adjusting both academically and socially. All of this will make the transition a better experience for the student.