Ensuring Success from the First Days of School

By Linda Ashida and Jen Delgado

 The Prospect High School Class of 2020 gathers for a picture during 1Prospect. 

The Prospect High School Class of 2020 gathers for a picture during 1Prospect. 

All District 214 schools are committed to preparing students for successful start to the school year. To get an idea of what those first days looked like, click here.

To help students transition and connect with their school community, several schools implemented unique programs with modified schedules. Elk Grove and Prospect High Schools created special programs for their Freshman classes, while Wheeling created a modified start for all classes. Though they varied in their implementation, each of these programs considered the academic, social and emotional needs of the students, and both staff and student leaders collaborated to lead breakout sessions such as team-building, self advocacy, goal-setting, using digital resources, digital citizenship and leadership.

Elk Grove - Freshman First Days

"With Freshman First Days both staff and students come together in a common vision of what it means to be ready for high school. Students feel part of a special community out of the gate and we build on that to accomplish far greater things over the next four years and beyond."  – Paul Kelly, Principal

The first of the two-day program for the class of 2020 kicked off with a motivational guest speaker who inspired students with a message of what it means to be respectful, responsible and connected at Elk Grove. He encouraged students to dream big to accomplish anything they set their mind to. Student-leaders then led their assigned group of Freshman, identified by college names, through the two-day modified schedule of break-out sessions, including one on Harper Promise. At the end of the second day the team of student leaders engaged the freshman in a mini-pep assembly, preparing them for or the school-wide pep assembly at the end of the week.

The enthusiastic participation of the freshman class in the first Friday pep assembly, is just one way that it was clear how connected they felt to their school in such a short time, according to Bonnie Kale and Kristen Guth, lead organizers of Freshman First Days.

Check out this Storify to get a glimpse of Freshman First Days.

Prospect - 1Prospect

“It can feel so intimidating to be a freshman but we wanted them to know, ‘You’re a part of our culture now. This is your school, too.’" -Danielle Menacker

On the first Friday of the school year, Prospect High School held a daylong program for freshmen called ‘1Prospect' to help new students acclimate to Prospect’s culture and understand what it means to be a Prospect Knight, according to program organizers Frank Mirandola, Lauren Collins and Danielle Menacker.

Under the theme of unity, staff and student leaders throughout the day stressed how the school becomes one even as students have opportunities to explore different passions and interests. The day began with a kickoff assembly where freshmen learned a cheer the student section performs at football games. Students then broke into groups named after universities and colleges and participated in 40-minute breakout sessions, one of which included a Q&A panel with senior leaders.  

At the end of the day, the entire student body gathered to perform the cheer freshmen learned earlier in the day and the Class of 2020 took a picture in the football field. In the days that followed, students said 1Prospect helped them feel more welcomed to school, and gave them the opportunity to meet new staff members and new classmates.  

Check out this We Are Prospect Video that was presented to Freshman at the morning  kick-off assembly.

Wheeling - Student Success Summit

“Get Ready to Climb Higher than you ever thought Possible”

This motto of the Student Success Summit reflects the two main goals of this one-day program for all students: Build stronger relationships with students, and give students the tools they need to be successful during the school year.

It was quite an undertaking to plan a modified start to the year for all students, not just the freshman class, but as Becky Kinnee, lead organizer of the Success Summit, said, teachers have an Institute Day at the start of the year to transition, to get prepared mentally, physically and emotionally, so why not offer that same opportunity to all of our students?” Undeterred by the complex logistics, all staff and students came together to make the one-day program a success.

Like the Prospect and Elk Grove programs for freshman, all students participated in break-out sessions on Technology, Self Advocacy, Team Building and Goal-setting, with a special session on leadership offered to seniors. Also, to follow-up with students on their goal-setting, Derek Swierczek created a Google form that will be sent out to students to self-report on their accomplishment of their goals, and to remind students of  the systems of supports that are available if needed.

Check out this Storify to get a glimpse of the Student Success Summit

Other D214 schools found ways to support the transition to the new school year by including special sessions for students during the regularly scheduled day. For example, during the first week at Rolling Meadows High Schools, teachers embedded in their classes short lessons on responsible use of technology, organizing Notability and Google Drive, along with relationship-building and team-building activities.