A few weeks ago, more than 2,000 elementary students went back to school in Ridgefield. For most, this meant returning to the school they have been attending since kindergarten, but for a few, this meant starting over at a new school. This fall, Scotland Elementary School welcomed 17 new students, in addition to the new kindergarten classes.
For students coming into a school after kindergarten, it can be a daunting transition. Leaving the comfortable familiarity of the previous school means navigating a new building, learning new school policies, meeting new teachers, and especially, making new friends.
At Scotland, the new students came from as close by as other schools in Ridgefield and New Canaan, to as far away as Florida, and even Italy. In mid-August, Scotland hosted a New Family Orientation and for some students it was their first introduction to the school.
Mark Solomon, school principal, welcomed families, gave an overview of school policies, and discussed the culture of the school. Each school has its own policies and rules, but also has its own culture, and helping families to understand the school culture is what helps them to feel comfortable.
After the orientation, Mr. Solomon gave the families a tour of the school and many teachers who were busy preparing their classrooms for the first day, took time to greet the new students.
When asked about her initial impressions of Scotland, parent Carolie Olkoski remarked, “It feels like a wonderful tight knit community. All of the parents (and children) I have met have been more than welcoming, and everyone is very helpful in answering questions about the school, and about Ridgefield in general. My son’s previous school was a bit larger. At Scotland, there are fewer classes in his grade and that is one thing we love about the school.”
Scotland held it’s open house and welcome back picnic two days before the start of school, which provided another opportunity for parents and students to get to know the school. The students and parents had the opportunity to meet their new teachers, see their classrooms and pick up their school supplies if they ordered the Wrap Pack through the PTA. Then it was outside for the picnic. There were bounce houses, a D.J., face painting, and ice cream. Daysie Kratz, a parent who moved into the Scotland district from Branchville just a few weeks before the start of school said, “The open house was a great way to get a feel for the school. Even though we are not new to Ridgefield, we did not know much about Scotland. When we arrived at the open house my sons were relieved to see some familiar faces from the Boys and Girls Club of Ridgefield and the teachers were great about welcoming them to a new school. When I stopped in at the school office to get the school supply list, Mr. Solomon immediately greeted me and went through all the paperwork with me. We have had a very positive impression of Scotland so far.”
A couple of weeks after the start of the school year, the school PTA sponsored a New Family Welcome Coffee for everyone new to Scotland, including parents of kindergartners. “I found it very helpful to learn about the various school policies in a relaxed forum with other parents. As a parent who is new to the school, it is wonderful to find such an engaged parent community,” said one participant.
Fortunately, it likely won’t take long for the new families and students to stop feeling “new.” Sergei Volkov, father of a fourth grader and a kindergartner new to Scotland, recounted his experience during the first week of school, “I volunteered to assist with the kindergarten lunch and as I walked through the school to the lunchroom, Mr. Solomon noticed me and asked if I needed any help. I mentioned that I was there to volunteer and he saw my last name on my name tag and immediately said my kids’ names. I was amazed that he already knew who they were even though they had been in school for less than a week!”