Back to School Week best practices
July 19, 2009
Here are some proven – and easy – ways to make Back to School Week a success in your school.
How to make this easy
Showcase what you already do.
Schedule something that features your existing activities. Science fairs, art shows, technology demonstrations, project presentations, debate competitions, career fairs, community service projects, spring concerts, family math nights – anything your students are already doing is excellent.
Nobody can resist kids – use them.
Students provide the most interesting programs, make delightful hosts, enjoy inviting guests, and basically "sell" our public schools. Focus on them, their talents and accomplishments – after all, they're what this is all about.
Use existing organizations.
You already have enthusiastic parent volunteers, an active parent club, a site council, a leadership class needing a project. Involve room mothers, the booster club, the existing phone tree, office aides – whoever can help that is already in place. With enough lead time, these groups can each do a part. Delegate the planning to these groups – suggesting three organizational areas: program and school coordination, invitations, and publicity.
Allow plenty of lead time.
In September, start laying the groundwork for you event. Contact the civic organization or retirement home that you hope to invite to your school and get on their schedule. Whip up enthusiasm among students and enlist volunteers to make a memorable event.
The "special friends" model
- Events to which students invite grandparents or special friends are very popular and produce good attendance.
- You can allow every student to bring a guest to lunch throughout the week and have students puts on a nutritional lunch program.
- Incorporate presentations by students about what they are studying. Invite guests to read to kids or be read to by kids. Host an "Invention Convention," and let students explain what their inventions can do, why they built it and how. Provide a music performance.
There are many options, but remember that personal invitation by individual students guarantees attendance. Connecting childless community members with elementary and high school students is a positive move; remember that it will require some lead time.
- Orchestrate tours in the district, inviting guests to visit several schools and view different programs.
- Contact the adult community center and ask guests sign up before the tours. Have a school bus pick up the guests. Provide a historical tour of the school district or a choir performance en route. Administrators can come on board to answer questions. Students can accompany their guests and talk about their schools. Have a sing-along and boxed lunch.
- Focus on local elected officials and county political leaders, presenting programs at each school to give the guests a clear picture of what is going on throughout the district: what works very well (great kids, dedicated staff, innovative classes) and what the challenges are (increased ESL needs and poverty counts). Host a lunch with school administrators, with time for questions and answers.
Adapt one of these models to fit your school and community.
- You hold a Technology Fair. Invite the Senior Center and have students demonstrate how they access and use the Internet. Have a group of students deliver personal invitations.
- Invite elected officials for term-project presentations. Have each student invite and host one official. Follow with a Q&A session led by the principal or the teacher.
- Plan "repeat performances." Your art show for parents is at night, but make it available for a Chamber breakfast meeting. Call your Chamber in September to get on the schedule for their April board meeting. Ask your parent club to provide coffee and treats, or if you're at a high school, have the cooking class prepare and serve breakfast, complete with nutrition information.
- Expand the Career Fair beyond presentations by local business people, to include a one-class shadow where each guest attends a class with a student. Finish with an "exit poll."
- Hold a Volunteer Recognition Tea. Ask each volunteer to bring three guests from the community who don't have children in school. Have testimonials from your outstanding volunteers about what they enjoy about volunteering and from your students on why they like having volunteers work in their classes.
- Hold a student debate during a Rotary luncheon meeting with the Rotary members scoring the debate. Ask the students to debate local or school issues. Contact the program chairman in September to get on the schedule.
Invite a church group to hold their meeting at your school and sit in on a classroom lesson. Divide them into small groups with each group visiting one class to observe a math lesson or a science experiment – some normal learning experience. Gather them in the library for tea, cookies and questions about what they saw.
The "breakfast" model
This simply involves having an organization meet at your school. It can be any time of the day, but breakfast doesn't cut into the middle of the business day. The disadvantage is that you must get students and staff there early if they are part of the program.
Call as early as is feasible (preferably September) to invite groups to schedule a meeting at your school. Offer to be part of their program – featuring school issues. Your program can include student-lead tours; student shadows; sitting in on classes; a talk by the principal, superintendent, or a school board member – there are endless possibilities. Use the opportunity to inform visitors about school improvements, successes and challenges. These are topics you might address. Most program chairmen are delighted to have a program suggested to them.
Possible organizations to contact:
- Adult community centers
- American Association of Retired People
- Association of American University Women
- Business associations
- Chambers of Commerce
- Church auxiliaries
- Garden clubs
- League of Women Voters
- Lions Club
- Local elected officials
- Neighborhood associations
- Retirement homes
- Rotary Clubs
How do we get people to come?
Get personal! Hand-deliver hand-made invitations or ask students to make personal calls or invite a club.
- Get commitment – RSVP’s, sign-up sheets, response cards.
- Follow-up/reminder calls – They're vital!
- Send "save this date" postcards five weeks before the event and invitations three weeks out.
- Use the press! Community newspapers should be part of this effort.
- And remember to focus on the 75 percent of the population that does not have children in the school system.
Ask for input
One of your goals is to help members of the community feel connected to their schools. Conduct a Q&A session or a simple exit survey about what they saw that impressed (or concerned) them, or ask them for suggestions. Any of these makes the guest part of your team.
Continue the connection
- Send thanks to those who attended.
- Add their addresses to your mailing lists.
- Start a neighborhood/school newsletter to keep them informed – when school events will create traffic, what they might like to attend, updates on education issues, etc.
- Invite them to art shows, fun runs, science fairs, school barbecues, carnivals, assemblies and concerts.
- Survey them about issues concerning the schools, children and education.
- Offer meeting rooms.
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