It doesn’t often happen that at this time of year we get new students. Today, in first grade, we had three.
You can be in our class!
I almost always get to meet new students before they begin. Meeting them and reading with them helps me to match them to a classroom and teacher. Sometimes it’s what their parents share that informs the decision most. It’s really a decision I weigh carefully. But every once in a while it feels like the universe has decided for me.
About a month ago, I met a boy. Let’s call him Ben.
We read together. We chatted. I didn’t observe anything that would cause me to place him in one class over another. Then, as I often do, I took him and his mother on a tour of the school. As we visited our school landmarks I shared more about our routines and traditions. First and second graders share a recess and lunch. You can return your library book for a new one any day at all! We have a bonus morning recess everyday when students arrive from the bus. Here’s the art room. Let’s peek in the music room.
Once in a while, magic.
As we quietly stepped into the music room a first grade class was playing a game, the rules of which I never discovered. Ben looked shyly around his mother. The game stopped mid turn. I asked them to excuse the interruption and shared that this was a new first grade friend. Kiddos swarmed nearer to us and chimed in: Hello. Which class will he be in? One boy came closer than the others and his voice rose above the rest.
“You can be in our class. We’ll be your friends,” Ryan said warmly as he looked Ben directly in the eyes.
Once we returned to the office, Ben’s mother pulled me aside. She explained some difficult experiences he’d had in his previous school. Situations where other children had been unkind, hurtful. What she wanted most was for him to feel safe. I don’t always ask this question, sometimes circumstances or numbers limit the choices in placement, but I did ask her: what kind of teacher do you think would be the best match for Ben if it were possible? She described what she felt would help him to thrive and one teacher immediately came to mind.
And do you know what? It was Ryan’s teacher.
Today, Ryan, who greets everyone with a smile and a wave, was there to welcome Ben to his new class. I hope he feels safe and welcome.
How do you like your school?
Starting in a new school can be hard. Children are resilient and, especially in elementary school, everyone wants to be friends with the new kid. But any move, especially mid-year moves, come with other challenges behind the scenes. New home. New town. New constellation of people who live with you. New teacher. New teams. New.
It’s enough to make the grown ups emotional.
I was touring the building with a mom and her two children. When I met them, they weren’t sure whether or not they’d be starting in our school this year. Maybe, they thought, it would be better to end the year in a familiar place amid all the other newness.
Throughout our walk, the girl bopped happily from place to place while her brother hung back, shy, unsure of all the newness we encountered.
Here’s the second grade hall if you join us next year. Here’s the playground, the gym. Here’s the first grade hall. Are those lockers?! Yup. Everyone has a place for their backpack and jacket. And here’s one first grade classroom. Would this be my classroom? I’m not sure yet.
Then something happened that hasn’t happened in all the years I’ve been doing this. Their mother looked directly at the first graders in the room and asked them, “Do you like your school?”
Time slowed down.
Front and center I saw little Billy. You never could be sure what was going to come out of his mouth when his eyes twinkled with mischief.
Around the edges of my vision swam sweet girls, quiet, helpful.
Billy loomed larger in my view as he turned fully to face us and boldly declared…
“Yes! Our school is great!”
It was as if time began again, children and senses unfrozen as other classmates chimed in their agreement.
I thanked them and excused us back into the hall. It was only a hop skip and a jump from the classroom to the office where our tour began.
This time when their mother asked them what they thought about whether they would rather start school now or wouldn’t they like to finish the year at their old school and come here for second grade, her son lit up.
“This year,” he beamed.
Today, he and Billy sat side by side on his first day.
Not what we expected.
From what I’d seen of his reserved nature (confirmed by Mom) and his sisters joie de vivre, I placed him in Billy’s class thinking that he’d gravitate toward some of the quieter boys there, or even the mother-hen girls. She, I surmised, would benefit from the slightly smaller class size across the hall.
I popped into first grade this morning to greet each of our newcomers.
Then again after the buses had rolled away I stopped to check with the teachers. How was today with our three new friends?
Not what we expected.
Ben seemingly settled right in. Thanks perhaps to a welcoming buddy.
The lively girl had been prim and proper.
And her brother seems to have found a kindred, mischievous soul in Billy from atop the stools at lunch!