For many students, the start of the school year can be stressful – prompting isolation, shyness, and learning obstacles. The most important part of an educator’s job is making students feel welcome.
“I’m always looking for opportunities for our kids to experience that their work and their words do have an impact on others,” said Ro Menendez, First Book community member and school librarian at a Title 1 school in Texas.
Challenges like mid-year student relocation and language barriers increase stress for students, educators, and parents. Addressing these hurdles directly can inspire all to feel more welcome in unfamiliar surroundings – even if for a short period.
Leadership at Menendez’s school has applied a system that allows students in all grades to join and attend clubs during the school day for 45 minutes every other week. She sponsors a club in her school library aimed at getting kids to read together.
“There could be a fifth grader that’s with a second grader, so they get to relate to kids of all ages,” said Menendez. “It’s helped them understand that school is more than just academics and there is something you can be good at and show off.”
Activities like these are coupled with an emphasis on reading to help forward a sense of welcoming community in the school. With titles like All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, Menendez has found ways to explore the true meaning of diversity beyond race or ethnicity with her students and apply the book’s focus across the school.
“I found out about All Are Welcome through social media. The title, coupled with the beautiful and playful illustrated cover showing students from diverse backgrounds, looking joyful and happy to see each other on their way to school, was so inviting that I purchased it. Once I read it, I was like, ‘This! This is what we need to start off our school year and start it right!‘ The story told in words and pictures reflects what our school and every school should feel and look like. How we should see and treat each other if we want to feel safe and that we belong here,” said Menendez.
Menendez provides her students with books and supplies should they need them, even welcoming them to the library during lunch and recess periods, as well as after the school day, so they can enjoy their favorite reads during their free time.
She hopes that these initiatives will produce an equal learning environment that centers around reading, generosity, and empathy.
“If I were to say that everyone in our school was having a great start it would be because you feel that this is your home away from home. Part of a great start is knowing that you are what we need in our classrooms, what we’ve been preparing for. If you don’t have all, or any of your supplies, don’t worry, we will get you what you need. That’s what family does.”