Highly Mobile Students: Strategies for Smooth Transitions

By: Texas OnCourse Leader Fellow Alease Copelin
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“Lunch is the worst. Even though I know everyone’s not really looking at me, it feels like they are. Everyone knows where they are going and has someone to sit with. I don’t even know what line to go to. I usually just don’t eat and head to the library.”

We’ve all been there. No matter our education, experience, or awards, starting over has its challenges. For students who walk into a new school, the challenge to fit in once again is very real.

One solution? Every six weeks, I pull the new students together and ask them to tell me what we, as a school, could have done to make “being new” easier. Signs for the cafeteria lines, school maps, and more have resulted from their suggestions – it’s all about creating a welcoming environment for learning.

Welcoming Strategies

As the Texas OnCourse Academy module addressing these students’ needs points out, “all learning is coded doubly, both cognitively and emotionally, so educators should strive to make the school feel safe and welcoming.”

We can’t control the fact that these students move frequently. What we can control is what happens as they walk into our building for the first time – or walk out of it for the last time heading to a new school.

Here are a few ways to provide a welcoming environment that makes moving easier.

  • New Student Folders – the content can include a school map; basic supplies; some coupons for free lunches; a magnet with the school name, address, phone number, and hours; and a school calendar showing holidays, report card dates, etc.
  • Student Ambassadors – pair a new student with an ambassador who can act as a guide, be a lunch buddy, and make the student feel welcome and part of the school.
  • Relationship Builder – assign an adult to talk to the new student about five minutes a day on a one-to-one basis.
  • Clear Point of Contact – if a school or district has a point of contact for children of military families, that person’s name should be clear and easily located on websites and parent information sheets.

Helping Students Transition from School to School

Counselors and advisers can also play a lead role in easing the transition, especially in high school when credits and graduation progress are impacted. Recall those times you’ve had a new student in your office who needed a schedule quickly, but you were missing critical information.

How can we help students leaving our school transition easily into a new environment?

  • Hand Carry Records – remind parents to hand carry records, especially if they are transferring overseas. If the student has an IEP or 504 plan, those should be hand carried as well.
  • Transcript Cover Letter – include a cover letter with transcripts to explain any unique situations and provide a link to the district’s course catalogue and any other information to expedite appropriate placement in classes.
  • Review Placement Options – if you know the school a student is moving to, explore all options for placement before requiring a student to take a course equivalent that does not align with the receiving school’s course catalogue.

After helping a new student settle in, I always ask myself, “What did I need to make things go more smoothly?” and I commit to providing those things to my students who withdraw whenever possible.

We’ve all been the “new kid” at one time or another. As the number of highly mobile students increases, having strategies in place to make the move a positive is essential.