August 24, 2023

Creating a Welcoming School Environment for Newcomers and Their Families: Expert Tips for a Smooth Transition

As we kick off another exciting school year, I wanted to share some thoughts from my own experiences. You know, that first day back to school can be a mix of excitement and a little bit of nerves. We’re all adjusting to new schedules and trying to shake off the summer haze. And for new students, well, that’s a whole new level of challenge.

But here’s the thing – schools everywhere are well aware of this. They’re putting plans in place to make sure every new student and their families feel like they belong right from the start. It’s all about creating a comfortable and welcoming environment.

Now, there’s something important that often gets overlooked – welcoming newcomers and families who don’t speak English. I’ve seen it firsthand, and it’s not just about learning a new language. It’s about understanding cultural differences, making friends, and truly feeling like you’re a part of something. Families, too, can struggle to find their place in the school community. Every year, countless families – immigrants, refugees, asylees – find themselves in this situation without much support from schools.

So, what can we do about it? Well, that’s where I come in. I’m Arturo Guajardo, and I’ve spent over 18 working in schools, witnessing these challenges and learning how to tackle them head-on. I’ve teamed up with Pocketalk to offer some insights into how schools can warmly welcome EL newcomers and their families.

Learn How to Pronounce Names and Practice Some of Their Language

Let’s start with something seemingly small but incredibly meaningful – names. Addressing someone by their name is a sign of respect, and it can build trust right from the start. And hey, don’t be shy to ask for the right pronunciation – it shows you care. Speaking of language, imagine being a new student, trying to learn a new language while also navigating everything else. A little effort goes a long way – learn a few phrases in their home language. It’s a gesture that says, “You’re welcome here, and we’re here to help.”

Explore Welcome Kits

And let’s not forget the practical stuff. Imagine being a new family, bombarded with information on day one. To make things easier, schools can put together welcome kits. These kits can include contacts for community support, info on health services, and even thoughtful gifts in the student’s home language. Speaking of language, why not have tools and peers ready to offer support? Sometimes, too many resources can be overwhelming, so having a friendly face or a translation tool like Pocketalk can be a game-changer.

Home Language Welcome Signs

Lastly, let’s talk about those first impressions. When you step into a new school, those first few moments matter. That’s why putting up signs in the students’ home language can make a world of difference. It sends a message – “You belong here, and we’re thrilled to have you.”

So, here’s to a school year filled with growth, learning, and most importantly, a deep sense of belonging. Let’s make it happen, together.

Arturo Guajardo

Former Bilingual/ESL Teacher, Language Enthusiast, and Proud Member of the Pocketalk Team