Consider starting a School Ambassador Program at your school. These are students in multiple grades who are your school spirit culture promoters!
We had so many students in our school who were multi-lingual and knew we needed to tap into this resource. Not only to give them the opportunity to volunteer their time and contribute back to the school. (Work Hard, Be Nice, Make a Difference) but we also knew they would be a huge draw for our school and a valuable resource for special events when involving our community.
Our Community, Well Being and Engagement Goal for the first few years of the school came from the School Effectiveness Framework and included:
– Indicator 2.5 Staff, students, parents and school community promote and sustain student well-being and positive student behaviour in a safe, accepting, inclusive and healthy learning environment.
– Indicator 3.3 Students are partners in dialogue and discussions to inform programs and activities in the classroom and school that represent the diversity, needs and interests of the student population.
– Indicator 6.2 Students, parents and community members are engaged and welcomed, as respected and valued partners in student learning.
Our School Ambassador Program was a positive example of how we were addressing these three indicators.
Our Ambassadors had many roles in our school but let’s begin with School Tours.
We wanted to support our new families and students beginning at our school. In our first few years we had a constant arrival of new students and we wanted those students to feel welcomed, involved and included right away. So many of our families were coming to us from outside Ontario or new to the country. School systems are so different and schools have their own culture and climate even within the same neighbourhood. We wanted our new families and students to receive an amazing first impression.
We were proud of our school and wanted to share that news with everyone. And who better to promote the school than the students themselves?
Students were invited to fill in a short application expressing their interest and our English Language Learner Staff would then sit and talk with those interested. Because students were coming in at every grade level we tried to have ambassadors at all age groups but the majority of our team were senior students. Each year we would add to our pool of ambassadors and it was a very sought after position of responsibility. Students were eager to show their school pride.
In the first year the team of students and staff developed a school tour that could be used when new families arrived and they wanted to see the school. They developed a script, with descriptions of our beautiful classrooms and learning spaces. They practiced and auditioned by taking staff members, including administrators around the school to share what they would be saying with parents and students. We were able to give them up to date numbers in regards to registration, languages spoken in the school, number of classes and really unique behind the scenes information about the building and maintenance of the school. We knew this information was not just saved for tours but also shared with peers in their classes. Building school spirit and pride one conversation at a time.
When a new family contacted us about registration our office staff would share information about our Ambassador Program and ask if the family would like to come for a school tour. We would honour the time the family had available and would end up doing tours before, during and after school hours.
We would inform staff ‘most times’ if a tour was coming through the school but staff became accustom to seeing people being walked through the building. Staff were open and receptive to the idea and smiled and welcomed the people walking the hallways. They would not enter classrooms unless invited and the majority of time just looked in at the beautiful learning environment from the doorway. I’m sure that families saw and heard things that happen in a school, it was not a performance or show. Students may not have been on best behaviour in the hallways moving to other locations, but we know the families had an authentic experience.
Our Ambassadors would meet students and their families in the front foyer and then take them on a tour. If administration was available the tour would end up back outside the office so we could answer any ‘adult questions’ that may have come up. We instructed our Ambassadors to speak about being a student at the school and to direct their comments to the child. We wanted the experience to be for the student who would be coming to the school. We also made sure the Ambassador was able to speak the language of the family in order to answer any questions if this was needed.
Our Ambassadors did so much more than school tours. They came to our Kindergarten Orientation Sessions for students and families. Imagine being a new family and bringing your child to our school? Maybe a first child that was being enrolled. Families got to experience early in their relationship with the school the importance of our students, the talents of our students and the pride they had in the school. They saw and heard that we were inclusive of multi languages and that there were many, or some, other families and students in the school with the same language.
They also came to every other special community event like: movie nights, guest speakers, curriculum nights and graduation.
They were easy to identify in their beautiful school T-Shirts and wore buttons to share their name and the languages they could speak.
I was at a basketball tournament one weekend with my son in a high school outside our district. In between games I went for a bit of a walk in the school. I noticed on a few lockers a large magnet affixed to the top that said in two languages, “I speak…” and then a language, written in English and in the language identified. What a wonderful idea for students to be able to walk through the school and see that there was someone that they could speak with. What a wonderful welcoming gesture for new students to know they were not alone.
We stole this idea and made badges for students to wear at special events.
When we had special events in our school it was not uncommon to have multiple generations attend our events. It was very heartwarming to see an elderly guest in our school, most likely a grandparent speaking with one of our ambassadors. The number of families that would come to me to share their impressions of the school and our Ambassador Program were too numerous to count.
Because of our Ambassadors we noticed that school events increased in attendance, there was now support in the school if you wanted to ask questions. The content of the conversations were never heavy, but having our team of students available increased the likelihood that families would engage with our school and our special events.
Think about how you can use some of this information in this Interesting Idea? Think about the positive impressions you create in your community? Think about the leadership opportunity you can provide students? Think about the pride in your school that you develop and foster?
A simple idea, with huge benefits.