Magazine article Momentum

Nativity School Takes Positive Steps to Be a Welcoming Community

Magazine article Momentum

Nativity School Takes Positive Steps to Be a Welcoming Community

Article excerpt

Cincinnati school revamps its new-family programs to ease transition into the school community

Catholic schools often attract new students because the school is like a small family. However, a challenge for newcomers can be that the school is like a small family. On one hand, everyone knows everyone and that generally provides a feeling of safety and caring for the students. On the other, it's just like marrying into a family; there is so much that "everyone just seems to know" but the newcomers don't.

How do we, as educators in Catholic schools, reach out to new families so that they feel like they are part of the school community? This is particularly important for families who are not parishioners or who are not Catholic. The more comfortable with and connected to the faculty and to other parents that new parents are, the better it is for everyone. When new families understand the rules, routines, values and beliefs of the school, they can more readily support the program, the teachers and most importantly, their child.

Nativity School is a small Catholic school located in an older neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio. Approximately 30 percent of its 415 students are from other faith traditions and approximately 30 percent of the students are minority (African American, Asian and Hispanic). Each year about half of the kindergarten families are new to the school. Additionally, there are generally 20 new students in first through eighth grades each year. Most of the families come to the school because they have just moved to Cincinnati from another state, they have moved to the neighborhood from another part of Cincinnati or they are using the Ohio EdChoice (voucher, free tuition) Program and are coming from a poor performing public school.

For several years a few events were in place to welcome new families. The Buddy Family Program paired new families with an "old" family that had children in the same grade. A gathering at the principal's home in August welcomed new parents and an ice cream social at school in August provided a venue for new families to meet each other.

In 2009 a self-study of the school programs called Project 2015 asked parents, parishioners and community members to comment on the strengths and challenges they saw here. Parents noted that there was so much going on and everyone seemed to be in "cliques" already, that it was hard to know where to put their attention or how to become part of a group. The need for a more welcoming community where new parents would understand school procedures and events and have opportunities to get to know other parents was one of the six areas of concern. With that mandate in mind old events were reworked and new initiatives were created.

Changes in the Welcome Events

One of the first areas addressed was the Buddy Family Program. The guidelines for those who volunteered to be a Buddy Family were to contact the new family and get together with them over the summer, call them throughout the year to answer questions and make sure that the new families "knew what was going on." However, many parents said that when they were new to Nativity their Buddy Family never contacted them.

A parent volunteer (new parent coordinator) stepped forward to work with the principal, the school secretary and the school psychologist to refine the Buddy Family Program as well as the overall approach to welcoming new families. Now the Seasoned Buddy Families are asked to:

* attend the June ice cream social with the new family;

* attend at least one of the June, July or August gatherings (picnic in the park, etc.);

* attend the August new parents gathering at the principal's home with their buddy parents; and

* watch for quarterly emails with reminders of upcoming events to explain to their Buddy Family.

The traditional ice cream social was moved from August to June. By holding the event in June, families connect with their Buddy Family early as well as have the opportunity to meet other new families. …

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