Find Your Way Days: Rethinking August for All

10 Jul 2024 3:19 PM | Paige Jennings (Administrator)

By: Andrea Smith, EdD

Principal Erie Middle School, SVVS

As a former middle school science teacher and a current middle school principal, I have experienced one of two formats for Back to School Night in my 20 years of education. Either we employ a “meet and greet” approach where parents and students circulate through the building and say hello to teachers after a large group presentation from the administrative team or we follow a schedule where parents and students rotate from one class to the next for 7-10 minutes with intermittent announcements from charming members of the office staff signaling “passing period.”

However, we have found that neither format truly meets the needs of our students and parents. First, Back to School Night in middle school traditionally happens a few days after school has started -- slightly before teachers have a true feel for the names and faces of their students, yet after students have pushed through the stress of finding their classes, getting to know their schedule, and opening their locker in the relatively short time we have for passing periods. Most larger middle schools are managing large numbers of parents and students in a set amount of time, so sometimes the halls and classrooms feel crowded in a meet and greet format, and the shortened bell schedule puts parents of multiple students in a tough spot as they either divide and conquer or pick and choose amongst their students’ classes.

This past school year at Erie Middle School, we tried a new idea. We added an informal opportunity for parents and students to get into the building to open their locker, find their classrooms, see the building, and work out those pre-first day jitters. And it was a HUGE SUCCESS! We offered two 2-hour sessions before school started and dubbed them “Find Your Way Days.”

We noticed the following advantages to the approach:

  • Less students hauled all their supplies into the building on the first day which meant our passing periods were smoother and less hectic

  • More students had already found their classes and lockers so they felt much more settled in their routines right away

  • Teachers were more available to interact with students as they weren’t taxed with helping with locker issues or directing traffic

  • Parents communicated feeling a sense of trust that their student was going to have a strong first day of school

Like we always do in education, we decided to reflect and improve the idea. Our building leadership team followed our collaborative decision-making process to carry out a design challenge. 

We asked the question: How might we design the week before school and the first two weeks of school to help parents and students feel successful and confident in their transition?

As a team, we empathized with parents and students to identify their needs and then pinpointed problem statements to generate new thinking about our August planning.

“Find Your Way Days” will be a foundational part of this redesign. Here are key improvements we are making to ease the transition for all students:

  • More sessions - we have identified THREE 2-hour time slots (both during the day and in the evenings) to allow lots of times that work for families

  • Teachers are signing up to be a Find Your Way Day guide for one of the sessions. This will replace their compensated time used for Back to School Night. Teachers who are “on” as a guide will have a bright orange lanyard with a personalized “How May I Help?” badge.

  • Every classroom will have a one-pager available for students and parents that includes a teacher bio, key information about the class they teach, and contact information. We created a template teachers can use so the one-pagers are consistent and fits within our school branding.

  • Our back-to-school communication is being revised to push the Find Your Way Days as the best way to help ease the transition. We have invited our PTO to sell spirit wear at the event, and we will also have key information about clubs and programming available.

  • Back to School Night will be replaced with counselor and administration-led transition parent presentations for each grade level. Using this time differently will be able to help us support parents in a more differentiated approach.

  • Every year we have donated school supplies from our district’s education foundation, we will have these available to families in hopes that we can reach more students to help them feel prepared for the first day of school.

We are excited to be trying something a little different this year, and we look forward to a settled and less hectic feel on our first day of school. Part of creating a calm, focused, and fun learning environment is trying new ideas and tweaking them to garner even more success. As middle school leaders, we need to be willing to constantly adapt our systems to better meet the needs of the students set to walk through our doors. For more information or questions about Find Your Way Days, email smith_andrea@svvsd.org.


Andrea Smith, EdD, is the principal of Erie Middle School in St. Vrain Valley School District. Andrea has worked in public education for over 20 years and enjoys that every day working with middle school students is different and full of new challenges.



CAMLE.
Colorado Association of Middle Level Education

email:  camlecolorado@comcast.net

mailing address:  CAMLE  •  4650 E. Amherst Ave.  •  Denver  •  CO  •  80222


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