S.W.I.G. to Combat Churn

That’s S.W.I.G. – no, not a gulp or a programming language – This is the Student Welcome and Induction Group. Well, it will be someday after the plan is refined, honed, and actually implemented.

A Draft Plan for Welcoming New Students During the School Year

I’ve been giving thought recently to one of the problems that many struggling schools face: high student mobility rates or churn during the school year. You see, in many state testing regimes, every student sitting in your school on the day of the test counts towards your scores. That’s true even if the student arrived at your school for the first time that very morning. So, we might be responsible for the performance without having had the chance to educate the child.

However, let’s put testing aside and instead focus on the children. Children move. A lot. Schools will always have new students during the school year. In our unending quest to do what is best for students, we need to make sure that our new students in October or March have the right welcome. If you believe, as I do, that a student who feels welcome in school will learn more, then we need to provide the right welcome.

The right welcome is one in which the child and the parents feel like we are glad they are with us. The right welcome is also evident when the whole staff is prepared for new students. In addition, the right welcome includes a large volume of information swirling about. Finally, the right welcome must go beyond the first two days.

Now for the Draft Plan. During the S.W.I.G. planning meetings, the S.W.I.G. would have decided on a list of protocols to be followed when a new student arrives and the timing for such. Surely, the S.W.I.G. would take into account how comfortable a new student is and the timing of each step. In any case the core of the Draft Plan is as follows:

  • Greet
  • Screen
  • Inform
  • Remediate (?)

So, you get the word that a new student is arriving. The school secretary calls the S.W.I.G. into action. S.W.I.G. members include the secretary, counselor, teacher/curriculum specialist, and the principal (and/or assistant principal).

The secretary pulls out a New Student/Family Kit (hopefully prepared by a volunteer in advance). This kit would include items such as:

  • Small welcome gift for the student (school swag or a pencil) and a lunch ticket for first day(s).
  • Important documents for the parent (Handbook, Newsletter, Curriculum Brochures, PTO information, Free/Reduced Lunch application, School-Home Communication Brochure, other?)
  • Registration and Health Forms/Emergency Card – TO BE COLLECTED ASAP
  • Parent Assignment: Tell about your child in a Million words or less (essay or form version)

The secretary then notifies the teacher who will be receiving the student and the principal. Teacher, principal, and a student buddy then come to greet the new arrivals. The key is to make the child and the parent feel welcome and comfortable as soon as possible.

Once the secretary and others have done the greeting, it is time for Screening. We need to know what this student can do. We need to know if our assessments match with whatever school records we’ve already received. Depending on the teacher’s wishes and needs, any one of the S.W.I.G. members might be involved in the screening. The idea here is to get a baseline of data about the student just like the teacher or S.W.A.T.* would have done in the fall.

A small but important part of welcoming a new student is the process of informing those who need to know. I would define that to include, but not limit to, the following:

  • All staff notification – with the barest of personal information – maybe in weekly memo?
  • HR teacher – with records, photo, screening data
  • specialists – basic biographical information and IEP/504
  • library – basic biographical information and IEP/504
  • kitchen – only name and class just to be prepared
  • nurse – all health info (some families will require a meeting with the nurse. So be it.)

Once the child first goes to class, the teacher will handle introducing and integrating in the class.

A final step for the new student is to Remediate if needed. This could take several different forms depending on the needs of the child. We might choose intensive remediation during first few days in order to catchup fast. Another choice would be to assign the student to pre-existing intervention groups or create a new group to fit the needs. The teacher, the various intervention staff, and the principal will need to design the right program rather quickly. Early success would be a great way to welcome a new student.

Please leave a comment with your experience welcoming new students or combatting the deleterious effects of high student turnover.

Some notes

  • Throughout all of this, everyone has to smile and be nice to the new family.
  • The homeroom teacher and others must have some notice whenever possible. Some can pull off not looking surprised and a little put out, but why put the teacher into that position (when I taught, I learned of new students when they walked into my roon.)
  • Make sure there is enough furniture for the new student. The custodian might be a big help.
  • S.W.I.G. should review the plan periodically.
  • *S.W.A.T. = System Wide Assessment Team
Welcome image from CC flickr user mckaysavage:

India – Sights & Culture – 027 – Chalk & flower welcome drawings

An intricate floor design done in coloured chalk and accented with flower petals welcoming us into a school near Kanchipuram,Tamil Nadu. Called rangoli (sandpainting) intricate decorative designs are drawn by the women front of their hut, house or apartment block every morning anew. The designs can be simple or very large and intricate. They are drawn to invoke prosperity, invitation and welcome of guests.