Tackling the Top Five “New Student” Fears
With the new school year only weeks away, you are likely already prepping for your students to return. You may also be preparing for the new faces that will join your school too. After all each year hundreds of thousands of students move and transition to new schools, and you likely have a few too.
I was recently chatting with a teacher friend of mine from Lexington, KY. She regularly has new students in her school, and so we began discussing the fears and worries these new kids experience. I moved around a lot as a child and teenager due to my father’s corporate job that sent him to new locations almost yearly. I was a “new kid” almost every year through middle school and high school. I can still remember those first week nerves from each new school. As my friend recounted what she hears from current new students, I was reminded of my own experiences. What we discussed is that the fears are universal, no matter the school or the decade.
What can your school do to help alleviate some of the discomforts and stressors of being ‘the new kid’? As a seasoned “new kid” and current relocation professional, here are the top five worries new students are bound to experience, as well as some suggestions on programs I’ve seen or experienced in schools that can make a big difference in how students settle in:
The dreaded first lunch hour . . . Who will I sit with?
The number one fear on students’ minds is the unknown of lunch hour. As a fairly unstructured social time, lunch break is the primary time during the day where many students gravitate to their friend groups, potentially leaving new students alone. The fear of not having anyone to sit with feels isolating and even embarrassing. As you talk to newly arrived students, let them know their options for what they can do at lunch (buy/bring/eat/go to the library and read/etc). You can help them create a plan for what to do if they get nervous or uncomfortable during that time.
Instituting a Buddy program is another great option. Selecting current students to be a new student’s Buddy to show them around, answer their questions, or sit with them at lunch those first few weeks of school. A friendly face can go a long way in making a new student feel welcome.
Fitting in. . . .What if I can’t make any friends?
The Buddy program can also help new students find friends. Connecting new students with a same gender, same age peer, and, ideally, someone with overlapping interests is the first step to helping them get to know their classmates and find others with whom they get along.
Additionally, in your initial meeting with them, take the time to learn about their interests and extracurricular activities so you can better advise them on clubs and opportunities that match those interests. Provide contact information or meeting times for any clubs or groups that they could join.
Involve the teachers too. This is a great way to set students up for classroom success. Particularly for mid-year moves, ask teachers to try to to partner or group new students with friendly, current students who will help acclimate them to the class or answer questions.
Consider organizing “new student” lunches too. This could be a great opportunity for these students, who are all in the same boat, to find new friends or share experiences.
Getting lost. . . .What if I can’t find my way around?
A first day (or registration) orientation and tour (whether for a group of new students or on a one-on-one basis) is a good start for getting students comfortable with their new surroundings. Ideally, the student would also have access to his/her schedule so they can follow it along their daily route. This can really help alleviate some of those first day jitters.
The Buddy program mentioned above is another good way of helping students learn the ropes throughout their first months, giving them access to a peer who can answer their questions or give them real advice about everyday student struggles.
Also, consider creating a “New Student Survival Kit.” Whether electronic or physical, providing new students with information to navigate the school, learn the rules, and know the relevant points of contact for their interests is a helpful reference point. You can even include tips and suggestions from current students.
Falling behind. . . .What if classes are different here?
Not all, but many students do worry about classes. Will they have missed something during the move? Are they behind at this new school? School districts (especially state to state) may differ in the order they teach certain topics and in how they define class levels. The initial class placements of these students may not be the right fit at first, so remind students to give feedback those first few weeks and ask teachers to be on the lookout if they see a student falling behind or one who seems like they need a more challenging curriculum.
Present opportunities for those students who would like to test to place into a more advanced class. And be sure to keep an open dialog with students who feel ill equipped in their current level to see if tutoring or moving down a level is the correct course of action. Students - especially in high school - have often worked hard for their academic (and extra-curricular) achievements and need to see that the move has not fully taken these away from them.
Depending on your school system’s unique needs, you likely already have (or will want to have) some of these processes in place. What else have you tried to help out new students, and did you find it to be useful? Share your thoughts on what has worked/not worked for you!
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 runs Essential Engagement Services.