Whether it is the beginning of the school year or the middle of April, one important role of a school counselor is to make sure that new students feel welcome at your school. Depending on the dynamics of your school, you may receive varying amounts of new students throughout the school year. At my suburban Title 1 school in Ohio, we receive about 40 new students at the beginning of the year. We also receive an additional 10-15 new students throughout the school year. Here are 5 tips to welcome new students that have helped prepare students for success at my school.
1) Keep Track of New Students
Every time a new student enrolls at my school, I receive an email from our enrollment coordinator. I created a simple Google Doc to keep track of new students as the emails arrive. In the Google Doc, I create one page for each grade level. Next, I insert a chart that has 3 columns on each page– Name and School, Notes, and Placement. In the Name and School column, I type in the new student’s name and the previous school he or she attended.
The Notes column is used for any information I acquire about the student that would be helpful for classroom placement. This information may come from the student’s records, talking with the previous teacher, an IEP, or discussions with parents. I work with our dean of students to reach out to the previous teacher of each new student. This method is only about 50% successful, as we often do not get our phone calls or emails returned; however, the information we do receive is very valuable, so we always make the attempt.
The third column of the doc is Placement, which is used to type in the new student’s teacher once we finalize our classroom lists. By keeping a Google Doc of new students, it helps us stay organized and collect helpful information that is beneficial for student placements.
2) Plan Ahead for New Students
When new students register at our central office, they are given a packet full of registration information. Inside the packet, we include a flyer about our New Student Orientation. The flyer contains information about the Orientation, as well as contact information for myself, our principal, and our dean. It is common for families to reach out with questions through email during the summer, so it is helpful to give them our email addresses in advance.
What if the new student arrives in the middle of the year?
Our process is a bit different for students who arrive during the middle of the school year. We do not run a formal orientation. Instead, I invite each new family in for a tour prior to the student’s first day of school. One way I plan ahead for new students in the middle of the school year is by creating New Student Folders. I purchased some simple folders from Amazon in our school colors. On the front of the folders, I stick on a label that I created with the online Avery Label Maker. Inside the folder, I include important papers that will help the new family get acclimated with our school, such as:
- Most recent school newsletter
- Meet the counselor brochure
- PBIS brochure and Class Dojo letter
- Most recent lunch and breakfast calendars
- School year calendar
- School supply list
- Directions to create a PowerSchool Portal (our online grade card program)
- Flyer from our parents’ club
I provide the family with the New Student Folder when they come in for the tour and include a business card so they can contact me with any questions.
3) Plan a New Student Orientation
About one week before school starts, we invite all new families to our school for a New Student Orientation. We create a simple presentation in Google Slides that gives families an overview of our school. I take turns presenting with our dean of students, but also invite our principal, school nurse, and parents’ club president to say a few words. The presentation lasts about 15-20 minutes and then we split all of the new families into small groups for a tour of the school. It is helpful to have very small groups to address questions from the families, so I like to invite a few teachers to help serve as tour guides. The tour is a very personable experience, which helps the new families feel welcome.
After the tour is complete, each group meets back in the cafeteria for a Popsicle treat! Staff members mingle with the new families to address any further questions. We also set out a table including some important information about our school, which allows families to grab any extra information that they need. Our New Student Orientation really helps to give families a great first impression of our school!
4) Connect with New Students
Once the school year begins, I continue connecting with new students to help them feel welcome at our school. During the second week of school, I meet with the new students in each grade level. It is helpful for the new students to get to know one another and it is also beneficial for me to learn more information about each child. During our meeting time, we always start with an ice breaker game. A quick search on Pinterest will give you many options for ice breakers.
My favorite game to play is New Student Jenga, which can be created with my Build Your Own Counseling Game on TPT. This Jenga game asks students though provoking questions in an engaging way. Throughout the game, I jot down any extra info that children share that will help me get to know them better. Students love playing New Student Jenga and they often ask to play again when they visit my office later in the school year! Click on the image below to check out the game on TPT.
When new students arrive in the middle of the year, I take the time to connect with them a few days after their arrival. I invite them to lunch with me and play an ice breaker game to get to know them better. Sometimes I notice that the new student is having trouble getting acclimated mid-year. If this is the case, I often schedule check-ins with the student throughout the next few weeks. I also find a student buddy to connect with the new student.
5) Introduce New Students to the School
A final step I take to help new students feel welcome is to create a display showcasing all of the new students at the beginning of the year. When I meet with each new student, I snap a picture and have them create a pennant for our New Student Banner. Once I am done meeting with all of the students, I use the pennants to create a display in our main hallway. Not only does this create a welcoming display, but it also helps the returning students get to know all of the new students! During arrival and dismissal, I often catch parents checking out the display, too. I keep the display up for about a month and then return the pennants to each student to take home. If you want to create your own New Student Banner display, check out my FREE resource by clicking the image below.
By following these 5 tips to welcome new students, you can help new students and families feel welcome at your school. Although it takes a bit of work up front, the steps you take to connect with new students will have a lasting effect. Do you have any favorite tips for new students? Please share your ideas in the comments below!