Schools Work to Make to New Students Feel Welcome

Megan Walsh (Right) With Her New Friends at Elliott ElementaryDisplay Welcomes New Students to Elliott ElementaryPIcture of Megan Walsh Included in New Student DisplayStudent Ambassadors Write Notes to New Students at ElliottNotes Invite New Students to Lunch with Student AmbassadorsNew Students Join Student Ambassadors for LunchStudents Chat at LunchStudent Ambassadors and New Students at Elliott Elementary

Change is hard, no matter your age.

That can be especially true for students moving to Frisco ISD from across the state, country and world.

“I was used to a small, little town,” said Megan Walsh, a fourth grader at Elliott Elementary who moved to FISD from New Jersey last year. “It’s so much bigger. It was kind of shocking when I came here.”

To Megan, it seems like construction is everywhere. Texans, she says, have an accent.

“I hear them say y’all, and it’s really weird to me,” she said. “I have said it a few times because I am so used to hearing other people say it now, it’s like normal.”

Moving to a new home, school and community is a significant adjustment, regardless of a person’s background or cultural differences. Frisco ISD works to make the transition as smooth as possible for students and families.

“I was a new student a lot,” said Katie Walz, a teacher at Elliott who moved several times as a child. “It’s a little strange to not know anyone when everyone else knows each other.”

That’s why Walz took a special interest in an effort at Elliott Elementary to help new students adapt to the campus and form friendships with their peers.

The school has welcomed more than 100 new students to campus this school year, not counting kindergartners. They came from near and far – cities like Dallas, Plano and Denton, along with states like Arkansas, California, Illinois, Missouri, New York and Washington, just to name a few.   

Frisco ISD added more students than any other district in Texas from October 2015 to October 2016, approximately 2,600 students. Another 2,500-plus have moved in since then, with enrollment expected to reach 64,000 students by 2020.

“We wanted the new kids to feel noticed,” said Elliott Assistant Principal Jodi Jordan, who has worked with staff to implement several strategies aimed at new students and parents. “We see them getting acclimated and we see them getting connected.”

Teachers are charged with introducing each new student to their classmates, as well as communicating classroom procedures and expectations, assigning a student helper to assist the new student and monitoring how well the new student is adjusting.

Students are empowered to take a leadership role in introducing new students and families to the school. A group of third through fifth grade students known as student ambassadors may be called on to greet new students in the office, share information about Elliott and meet with new students for lunch, among other activities.  

“Everybody deserves a friend,” said fifth grader Charlotte McWaters, who says she joined the student ambassador program to meet new people and help others.

“I really like having friends,” she said. “My goal is to know everyone in my grade.”

Plus, McWaters says, student ambassadors can help new students feel welcome and safe at school.

“It gives them a chance to not have a bad experience,” she said. “They know that there is at least one kid that they can trust and know is okay.”

The school encourages all students to be kind and helpful as new students learn campus and classroom routines. Students are asked to invite new students to join them during recess and lunch.

This school year, Elliott is also introducing new students during regular school-wide assemblies. Their photos are taken and displayed on a bulletin board for all to see.

“When the kids see that they aren’t the only new student, that there are actually a lot of them, I think they feel more comfortable,” said Jennifer Andrew, counselor at Elliott.

Frisco ISD strives to foster a welcoming and positive environment at each of its campuses. Events and activities across the District help students get connected to their school and each other.

Studies show students who feel like they belong do better academically, and fostering these connections is an important part of FISD’s efforts to meet the needs of the whole child. That means meeting a student’s social, emotional and physical needs, as well as their academic ones.

For new students like Walsh, it’s making a difference.

“I really like it here,” she said. “Everyone is really nice and I made friends really quickly.”

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