The beginning of the school year takes awhile. For me it lasts from first Athletic practices in late July through the Friday before the Labor Day weekend. In at least a few ways, we move into a school year the way we move into a new house–a new school year has its own kind of heavy lifting and unpacking.
While we have some lifting and unpacking left before we close the book on this particular start to a school year, I have already gathered a few early insights about how it has all gone this year.
- There is power in striving for a balance between the rites of passage for High School seniors who will graduate in the spring and the rites of passage for freshman who are trying to find their way into a new community. At my school there are many traditions for seniors, but there has been a vacuum of traditions for freshman. We have made an explicit effort this year to remedy this. I wrote about one specific part of that effort in a post entitled, “Blessing of the Backpacks: Welcoming 9th Graders and their Parents into the High School.”
- Earnest attempts to be proactive produce good will. Trying to answer questions for families before they even have them is helpful. This year we moved our Parents Night (not to be confused with a standard Parents Class Rotation Night, which is in late September) to dates just before the first day of classes, and the feedback has been consistently positive thus far. Rather than allow a build up of confusion and perhaps frustration, we were able to head off some concerns that in the past may have festered. Our faculty advisors also called or wrote each family of an advisee before the school year started in order to simply say how much we are looking forward to having their sons and daughters with us this year. As we try to strengthen our Advisory Program, communicating in this way gave each family a small bit of evidence of our commitment. Additionally, it allowed us to open up a line of communication with families that can feel challenging to open up if the task is left to the family. We define the role we want to play for students and families when we start the year in this way.
- Splitting Parents Night into an 11th and 12th grade meeting on Monday and a 9th and 10th grade meeting on Tuesday, allowed us to refine our presentations for the different needs of parents of each age group. It also made the total group size more manageable.
- While content is important and there are many things we need to say to both parents and students at the beginning of the year, the most important goal is to give them a sense of who we are and what we do so that parents get a sense of the school as a caring community and so they learn where to take questions when they come up. Even if the memory of specific information falls away, the impression a friendly face makes sticks.