Our school does a modified first day schedule, for freshman only. No sophomores, no juniors, no seniors — just the frosh. It’s an awesome way to create a supportive environment and ease some of those first-day jitters as our young men and women transition from middle school and high school. Here’s the basic idea:
First thing is an assembly in the gym, and because the size of the school permits it (500-600 students total), we do a whole staff receiving line. Every freshman walks down a snaking line of teachers, introducing themselves, shaking hands, exchanging pleasantries, and at the end, running for the hand sanitizer. We all wear nametags and do our best to be cheerful and friendly without looking like total losers.
Then the assembly is short speeches from the principal, VP, activities director, academic dean, resource officer, student council president, etc…. It drags on a bit, but people keep it short and cycle through pretty fast. We teach the freshmen their class cheer (necessary for the all-school assembly the next day), and this year, the faculty entertained them with what I’m told was a heart-breakingly beautiful rendition of the school fight song.
Following the assembly, students are sent off with a staff member (4-5 students per teacher usually) for an hour long “advising” period. We make sure their lockers open, take them on a tour around the school and point out all their classrooms, then break out the student handbooks and give them the highlight reel of “need-to-know” info. Any extra time we fill up with getting-to-know-you stuff, questions about activities, etc.
Then it’s off to an abbreviated class schedule, with 25-minute periods. This is in some ways the weakest part of the schedule, because it’s pointless to start with the usual first day stuff, as you’ll just have to repeat it the next day for the upperclassmen, but everyone else is doing the “get to know each other” routine, and after about 2nd period, the kids are sick of it. I usually play games (Lone Wolf is ideal if you have enough students), show magic tricks (either math, cards, or object manipulation), do puzzles, or show the students cool SmartBoard tricks (if it’s a small enough group that everyone can get involved).
After the last period, there’s a quick 10-minute debrief with the same “advisor” as before, then a return to the gym for the a closing 20-minute assembly, which usually involves singing and some sort of ridiculous Double-Dare style competition that the Student Council dreams up.
Why don’t more schools do this?
Freshman-only first day is a great way to begin the school year. Most first-day issues are freshman issues, so we get those taken care of immediately and on the actual first day, it’s only the upperclassmen who can’t get into lockers, find classrooms, etc. Walking through the school without the usual crush of bodies helps orient our newest students so that they feel comfortable finding their way around once the hallways look like this:
It also helps build student-faculty connections and gives the usual anti-bullying initiatives an added boost, because the most vulnerable students are all there together when we go over who to contact, what bullying is, etc.
Anyway, this is one of the things I feel my school really does right, and from talking with other teachers, I do not think it is common practice elsewhere. BUT IT SHOULD BE.