By Barbara Gruener
Part of our Counselor’s Corner series. Click to read other posts in the Counselor’s Corner.
Happy 2016. The start of a new year typically brings great promise and endless possibilities for improvement and change. Resolutions to make things better abound.
But what if the change is something a student didn’t ask for, something that he or she doesn’t want—something like moving midyear, for example? What would such students need from their new school? What would they want from their new school family? What could you do to welcome them and help make their transition go more smoothly?
Whether students transfer in September or another time, it’s vital to nurture change. Train faculty and staff on transition expectations so that they can provide the necessary support. Newcomers will want to connect and feel a sense of belonging. Their arrival will provide a wonderful opportunity to elevate empathy in the students who have already begun to gel with one another. Ask your students to brainstorm ideas for making new students feel cared about and welcomed.
Consider these suggestions that support transfer students:
Make New Friends Welcome Kits to give to students when they register. These can include, but aren’t limited to, a hand-written welcome note from one of your students, a school pencil inscribed with the school website, a character-trait wristband, a coloring book with pictures of key support personnel, a map of the school, and a coupon for an ice cream treat from a community partner.
Introduce new students to support staff like the principal, the school counselor, the nurse, the librarian, and the cafeteria staff as soon as possible because they will provide comfort and connection in the days and weeks ahead.
Find a L.I.N.K. (Let’s Include New Kids) guide—a student in the new students’ homeroom—to serve as a buddy, take new kids on the school tour, and help them acclimate to their new surroundings. If there is a second language involved, consider using a student who can speak that language and translate as needed.
Pair new students with a Cafeteria Companion to help facilitate lunchtime conversation and encourage new friendships.
Take a photograph of your new students (with their permission) and make a L.I.N.K. display so that existing students can recognize them and learn their names. Put their pictures on die-cut stars that say something like this: Twinkle, twinkle, little star; we wished for you, and here you are. As an alternative to the photo, let new students decorate the star to show who they are, what they like to do, and what they value.
Give new students a class and/or school T-shirt so that they’ll have what they need for special events like field trips or assembly days.
Issue a school planner. If this doesn’t include a list of suggested supplies, include that separately.
Create a list of all clubs and extracurricular activities and post student-created public service announcements that explain about the clubs. Encourage new students to join at least one before- or after-school activity.
Make a name badge that hangs on a school lanyard for your new students. Put the words to the school song and pledge(s) or touchstone on the back for quick reference.
Host a special gathering for all new students every grading period, so they can meet one another and do some team building. Some activities we’ve enjoyed are a root beer float party, a reader’s theater performance, and a game of dodgeball.
Invite new students to regularly connect with one another at a “Lunch Bunch” or in a small group counseling class.
Provide opportunities for new students to share highlights from their former school so that you might adopt their promising practices.
Locate a new student’s former school on a map and calculate the mileage from there to your school. Challenge the class or grade level to collectively run that many miles either during physical education classes, at recess, or before or after school (as is reasonable).
Send a video message from your new student to his or her former teacher and class.
Arrange a Skype or Google Hangout chat between your new student’s former class and the new class. Or, invite the former class to be pen pals with your class so your students can learn more about that area’s customs and traditions.
Include the adults in the school integration process. Work with the parent-teacher organization to pair new students’ caregivers with existing members who can answer questions as they arise.
Rely on the school counselor as a liaison to community resources as needs surface.
Currently in her 32nd year as an educator, Barbara Gruener, a school counselor and character coach at Bales Intermediate School in Friendswood, Texas, has had the pleasure of working with kids from every grade level. Author of the blog The Corner on Character and the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind, Barbara enjoys positively influencing change through her inspirational keynotes and interactive workshops. When she’s not working, you can bet Barbara is knitting, baking, writing, reading, walking, gardening, napping, or spending time with her husband and their three children.
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Barbara, you have some fabulous ideas here. Well done. I think making new students welcome is crucial, at the beginning of the year as well as mid-year. I love the idea of welcome kits. I always had a welcome kit for new students to the class. I wrote them a letter that included the words “I’m glad you’re in my class” or “I’m happy to be your teacher” and a sticker that said the same thing. I love the “Twinkle Twinkle” rhyme. I wish I was aware of it when I was in the classroom. I would like to share it with others. Is it your idea or did you find it elsewhere?
Hi Norah, thank you for your kind reflections. I love that you always had a welcome kit for new students; how nice that must have been for them! As for the rhyme, I first saw it as Wall Art in a baby’s nursery a few years back and thought it’d make the perfect L.I.N.K. bulletin board.
Thank you, Barbara. We share many ideas in common. The star rhyme is perfect for your L.I.N.K. bulletin board. 🙂