Guest Blog: Helping New Students Settle In

 I am pleased to include a guest post written by Sara Boehm of Essential Engagement Services. Her organization provides employees with resources to guide them and their families through the mental and emotional stresses of moving.  Check out her website which includes a series of Essential Moving Guides.   

Hope you enjoy this information and I welcome your feedback!!

Helping New Students Settle In

Every year, thousands of students become “the new kid” at school. I know that role intimately. Growing up, my family would move often due to my father’s job; so from the 6th through the 10th grade, I was in a new school every year. I don’t think anyone will be surprised to learn that Junior High and High School are rough times to move! While I remember the nerves, the loneliness, and the stress, I also remember the welcoming efforts of so many along the way. I remember the new student lunches where I would meet life-long friends. I remember the school counselor who helped my little sister transition to a new junior high.

While I’m not a school counselor (and do not pretend to have the vast intel that they do), I do know what it’s like to be on the other side of that table, and have also made it my professional mission to helping people transition in situations like these. Having experienced this so many times myself, I would like to pay it forward to all the new kids starting school this coming year. To do that, I have compiled some of my best tips to help you help your new students.

Maximizing your impact

Greet your new students, and let them know your hours. Explain clearly how they can come see you and remind them of your confidentiality/privacy approach. Take the time to learn what they did and liked in their old school and make suggestions accordingly. When possible, meet with their parents to let them know what the school is doing and how they can best support their teens during this transition.

Programs to consider
Orientation – Often it can be as simple as an informal tour at registration to walk the student through the school grounds, follow their class schedule, and introduce them to a few of their teachers and relevant faculty members. Taking the time to acclimate the student to the school’s layout and their class schedule, to ask any questions they may have, and to meet some important faces can go a long way in helping to alleviate some of the ‘unknowns’ that loom over the first day at a new school. This is also a great time for you to meet with the student’s parents and prepare them for what to expect.

Buddy Program – Create a Buddy or Peer Program where current students volunteer (and are vetted) to help guide and orient new students. Form a club where the Buddies get guidance and rewarded for their efforts in helping to “onboard” a variety of students. They can be matched by the age/gender/interests of the new students to ensure they have a lot in common. Buddies should show their new student around, sit together at lunch (the dreaded lunch hour—often the biggest worry for new students!), answer questions, and help their new student meet other students. A program like this will help give existing students a fun opportunity to be welcoming and to support an inclusive environment. Have Buddies sign a contract that is inline with their agreed upon responsibilities, and create a feedback loop where the Buddies check in with you if they feel like a new student might benefit from a meeting or additional interaction. Immediate friends, no lonely first lunch hours, and the opportunity for connection all around makes this program a winner.

New Student Lunches – Whether it is a welcome lunch or monthly lunches for the first few months, consider organizing a new student lunch for all these students to meet and interact with one another. There’s nothing like connecting with someone in the same life stage as you are to provide a built-in support group. Promise them free pizza or make it brown bag! It can be a social affair with ice-breakers and conversations.

New Student Kit – A new student welcome kit is a great way to help students get acclimated to your school. It can be online where potential new students can access it even before registering for classes, or a physical kit given at registration. The kit could include:
·         Maps of the school
·         The school song and mascot
·         A listing of clubs/sports and contact information
·         Tips and tricks on getting around from current students
·         A current edition of the school paper
·         Or even a bumper sticker for school pride.
Customize the kits however you like and check with new students to see what they found most useful to continue to refine future kits.

Improving Teacher Awareness

Teachers have a great opportunity to help out and welcome new students. Especially for new students coming in mid-year, teachers will likely have a good gauge for identifying the most welcoming and helpful students with whom to place a new student for group projects and in class partnering activities . As you work with instructors at your school, remind them that small things can go a long way in helping a student acclimate.

Additionally, it is often difficult to perfectly place a new student at the right class level. Students may end up in a course that is more advanced than one they had previously taken. Or perhaps the class is too slow, or there are holes in their understanding of the subject. This can take an otherwise prepared, confident, and calm student and incite doubt or stress that could spiral into more serious problems such as withdrawing from the course or acting out. Teacher mindfulness of class placement is important as they have the best vantage point. Getting a student moved up or down or helping them find tutoring help early on can ease the result of any transition hiccups in curriculum.

Moving is challenging, but it can also be a very fun and exciting time. It is a time for fresh starts, new opportunities, discovering what matters most to you, and taking on new adventures. Professional school counselors are at the forefront of this experience. Understanding the impact that change can have in a teenager’s life and having the experience and expertise to create an environment that helps with the emotional and mental settling in process is huge. I have been to schools that did this incredibly well and schools that did not (usually because the school did not have enough new students to have an organized system in place). I saw what a difference even small programs, gestures, and attempts at welcoming can have.

I challenge you to take this summer to imagine yourself starting in your school as a new student this fall. Think through the programs are currently in place at your school and see what else might help to enhance these programs. Lastly (and certainly not least), know that students don’t often say thank you like they should. But from a former new student to you: I say thank you for all the amazing work that you do!

About the author

Sara Boehm is author of The Essential Moving Guide For Families and other titles in its series. Boehm has lived the world of corporate relocation, moving 12 times as a child and as an adult. She empathizes with all who are going through the moving process, and works with companies and individuals to assist those whose lives are being disrupted by relocation. She received her MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and presently lives in the Los Angeles area and owns Essential Engagement Services.