One important role of a school counselor is to help welcome students who are new to the school. Whether the student is new at the beginning of the year, or is transitioning mid-year, it is very important to help the student feel comfortable and welcome at the new school. As an elementary school counselor, there are several ways I reach out to families and students to make the new student transition successful.
New Student Tour
At my school, all new families are invited to a New Student Tour about two weeks before school starts. When families register at our board office, they are given a flyer that I created about our New Student Tour. I also email out the flyer a few times during the summer as I get the email addresses of new families. I embed a link to a Google form on the flyer to give families an easy way to RSVP. This helps me easily keep track of the amount of RSVPs to help us plan for seating and treats after the tour. This year, we had 100 parents and children at our tour!
We begin the tour with a short orientation. I put together a Google Slides Presentation that gives families basic info about our school. Tip: Check out Slides Carnival for some fun templates for Google Slides. On the RSVP Google form, I include a spot for families to type in any questions that they have, and I make sure to address their questions during the orientation. I try to involve some extra staff members in the orientation to allow the new families to meet as many individuals as possible. This year, I presented the orientation with our dean, principal, school nurse, and parents’ club president. The orientation takes about 15-20 minutes and then we allow a few minutes for questions.
Next, we split the crowd into small groups and each staff member leads a group around the school for a tour. This allows for a more personal tour and helps families feel comfortable asking questions in a smaller group. After the tour, we head back to the cafeteria for a Popsicle treat! Families mingle as they eat their treats and also check out a table where we set out some “grab and go” resources about our school. The New Student Tour is a fun way to make a great first impression and connect with the new families!
Small Groups with New Students
At the end of the first week of school, I schedule a small group session (just one session) with all of the new students by grade level. If there are a lot of new students in a grade level, I split the group in half. We meet for about 40 minutes and it’s a great get-to-know-you time!
We start with a quick introduction. Students say their name and the name of the school they went to last school year. I also ask each student why they moved to a new school if they are comfortable sharing. Many students give a very specific reason for moving, which is helpful for future counseling purposes. For example, here are some of the reasons students may give for moving:
- My dad is in the military and we move all of the time
- We needed a bigger house
- I was getting bullied at my old school
- We moved in with my grandma to help take care of her
- My mom lost her job
- We didn’t move to a new house. I just changed schools. I was going to a private school and my mom said it wasn’t working for me any more.
- -We ran out of money to pay rent, so we had to move in with friends.
As students share, I jot down any relevant comments that may help me in the future.
2) New Student Banner (FREE download!)
Next, each student creates a pennant that will be put together to form a new student banner display in our main hallway. I print all of the pennants ahead of time on Astrobrights Neon Card Stock (affiliate link). Students write their name and grade on their pennant and I trim them later with a paper cutter. I snap a photo of each student with my iPhone to print later and add to each banner. To display the banners, I made it easy and simply stapled them to the bulletin board in our display case, but you could also use yarn or ribbon. Here is the finished product:
PS: Check out the amazing Starry Night crayon mural created by our 2nd graders in art class!
If you would like to create your own new student banner, I have a FREE template in my TPT Store. Click on the image below!
3) Ice Breaker Jenga Game
The New Student Jenga game is the highlight of the small group time! I create the game using my Build Your Own Counseling Game resource. The resource comes with 30 themes that can be mixed and matched to create a customized counseling game. For the new student groups, I use 4 themes: New Student, All About Me, Favorites, and Just for Fun. The game is a great way to learn more about new students. Often, when new students visit my office later in the school year, they ask if we are going to play Jenga again!
4) Letter Home
At the end the new student group, I give each student a letter to take home to their guardians. The letter explains my role as the counselor, talks about what we did in the small group, and gives parents my contact information. The letter is simply one more way to educate parents about the role of the school counselor and it helps to reassure families that I am working on ensuring a smooth transition for their child.
What if new students arrive mid-year?
Ideally, all new students would begin the first day of school and be able to participate in everything above! Obviously, that is often not the case. At my school, we have a process for new students who register throughout the school year. Here is what we do:
1) When I get an email that the new student has registered at the central office, I call the family and set up a new student tour.
2) The family comes in for a tour (usually 2-3 days before the student is scheduled to begin) and I address any of their questions throughout the tour.
3) I provide the family with a New Student Folder. The folder contains any important paperwork that the family may have missed at the beginning of the school year, such as:
- School Handbook
- School Year Calendar
- Supply List
- Meet the Counselor Brochure
- Letter about PBIS
- Building Safety Letter
- Nurse Brochure
- Most Recent School Newsletter
- Current Lunch Menu
It makes a great first impression to have everything put together in a folder to give to the new family at the tour. I bought some cheap two-pocket folders (affiliate link) in our school color on Amazon and created a label for the front using the online Avery label maker website.
4) If several new students enroll at the same time (usually around Winter Break), I run a new student group similar to the one above. If not, I make sure to meet with each new student about a week after their first day of school and check in to see how everything is going.
Share your ideas!
What do you do to welcome new students at your school? Share your ideas in the comments!