From The Yield, Fall 2014
Janis Clark, Director of Admissions, Collingwood School (BC)
Matthew S. Hoeniger, Assistant Headmaster/Director of Admission, Rumsey Hall School (CT)
Jay Lasley, Director of Admissions, Norfolk Academy (VA)
At your school, is the admission office responsible for new student orientation?
JC: Yes, our admission office drives our new student orientation, and we rely heavily on our teachers, student ambassadors, heads of house, and house captains, and administrators for their active involvement in this special day. My team and I have known our incoming students and their families for months – if not for a year or more.
MH: Yes, the admissions office is where it all starts! We are familiar with the families coming in as we’ve come to know them during the admissions process. Just as we courted them during the admission process, we now have to take the time to make them part of our community. As a boarding school, we need to make sure that the families and the students are oriented, comfortable, and happy about their student’s new beginning at Rumsey Hall.
JL: At Norfolk Academy, the admission and academic divisional offices work closely to organize the new student orientation programs. New students and parents have been on campus many times since their acceptance to the school, and orientation is an exciting opportunity to welcome our newest Bulldogs. In many ways, orientation also serves as the unofficial transition of a new family from our care, to that of the respective academic division. While admission does have a large presence at orientation, it is the academic divisions which take the lead in the actual running of the events.
Describe your orientation program.
JC: Collingwood’s annual New Student Day is hosted concurrently on our two campuses, located four miles apart. At our Wentworth Campus (JK-Grade 7), new students and their parents attend a scheduled drop-in session to meet the homeroom teacher, division heads, and head of Wentworth. Our young student ambassadors welcome our new families and lead refresher mini-tours. Our new families also have the opportunity to speak with admission staff, other school representatives, and members of our parents’ council to ensure a successful and welcoming transition to Collingwood. The homeroom teachers buddy-up their new students with current students so that our newbies have reliable go-to peers to depend on during their first days and weeks at Collingwood. Our new Wentworth students leave New Student Day with a Collingwood goody bag.
At our Morven Campus (Grades 8-12), we host an informative and festive event of formal orientation and high-energy celebration aimed at ensuring our new students feel welcome and ready to start their first week at Collingwood with a bang! New students first meet en masse with our headmaster, the head of Morven, and our six heads of house. They then hear directly from our university guidance team and from our director of athletics, and they are presented with an overview of our many service opportunities. Our newbies then assemble in their mentor classes, meet their mentor teachers, and receive their locks and locker assignments. They then gather by House and engage in some ice-breaking activities. New Student Day culminates in an outdoor BBQ.
In addition, we host three separate evening receptions for parents of new students during the first couple weeks of school where they are introduced to the teachers of these specific grades, as well as members of our senior leadership team and representatives from the board and parents’ council.
MH: The program spans two days. Families receive a checklist of people to see and places to go once on campus. The list contains items, people, and places such as: dorm assignments, health center/health forms, advisor assignment, business office, etc. Families complete this list together. There is also a meeting for parents in the “MAX” (our theater) with the Headmaster and other key members of our faculty. Meanwhile, students get settled in their dorms.
After the parents depart, a family style dinner for students begins and that evening informal dorm gatherings get underway so students have a chance to get to know one another. The next morning after breakfast, students go back to the dorm to make up their rooms, then all of the students gather and break into four groups to meet either with our deans and IT staff, or to confirm their athletic assignments and requirements, and then pick up their books.
After lunch the students break into groups of about 12 and tour the campus with faculty members. They visit all dorms (common areas), classrooms, all other facilities, and they meet with the staff in key offices around campus. At the end of the day, all the groups come together for ice cream and soda. Returning students will get the chance to meet during an all-school dinner, followed by evening dorm meetings to review expectations for all students.
JL: Our lower school and middle school orientation programs have very different formats. As a grade 1-12 school, we rarely have any new students in our upper school — grades 10-12 — and those few meet individually with the upper school director in lieu of a formal orientation. In lower school, grade level scavenger hunts certainly are the highlight of program. As students explore the lower school on this “quest,” the youngest of the new Bulldogs have their “student passports” stamped at such exotic locations as the library, science lab, nurses’ clinic, and refectory. The final stop is their new classroom, where the students enjoy refreshments with their new teacher.
The middle school orientation program is heavily organized by the middle school’s student council and helps acclimate their new peers to the culture and atmosphere of the school. All new students and parents are a part of the opening program, which features student council members presenting information on various aspects of the middle school, including the honor code, clubs and activities, athletics, and academic life. New students then are led through a “Day in the Life” tour throughout campus, while parents remain in an auditorium and receive further information from the middle school director and faculty members.
Why do you host these events? What is your favorite part/tradition? Are there things you hope to change? What sort of feedback have you received from new students/parents about
JC: We want our incoming students (and their parents) to know first hand what they can expect from us and, in turn, what we expect from them. Our teachers love the BBQ because it’s one of the few times during the year in which they can have a relaxed chat with many of the new students.
The most significant change we will make this year is to include our 90 current students who were last year’s seventh graders in New Student Day. We embarked upon a multi-year process of realigning the distribution of grades across our two campuses, which resulted in the seventh graders moving from our Wentworth Campus to our Morven Campus for their grade eight year and beyond. We identified that our graduating grade seven cohort was also
“new” to our high school campus and should be included with all of our brand new students in this special day’s orientation and activities.
MH: The orientation events are designed to alleviate students’ anxiety about starting a new school and parents’ anxiety about leaving their children at school. The program allows our new students to acclimate to the school. During this time, our staff and faulty are all paying very close to attention to ensure students are doing well with that transition.
The best part of orientation for me is that it symbolizes the start of a new year. We have the opportunity to welcome new students to our community and see the year with fresh eyes — embracing the philosophy, mission, and culture of our school all over again. One of the great moments where we see this community form is at our first all-school dinner, which includes all faculty members and their families, along with all of the new and returning students.
JL: Our orientation programs occur the week prior to the first day of school. Parents have remarked how much fun their children have, especially with the scavenger hunt format, which builds enthusiasm and often helps diminish any anxiety about attending a new school. Similar feedback has been received from our middle school parents and students, who consistently share their appreciation of the program produced by current Norfolk Academy students.
In a separate nighttime event held during the same week, the admission and development offices host a new parent dinner. Parents enjoy a social time, mingling with trustees, administration, and admission parent ambassadors, and then are treated to a sit-down dinner. Our board chair and headmaster provide words of welcome, and our business manager gives a brief presentation on the school’s business operations. Our trustees and ambassadors are strategically placed throughout the dinner tables, ensuring that every new family has the opportunity to converse with multiple school representatives during the evening.