Boarding School Orientation: Building Relationships

This piece started with the idea “the first day of boarding school.” After some thinking and mulling over what to say about this first day, it dawned on me. That's not the way to do it.

The first day of boarding school is important, but in every school that I attended or worked in the first day is exactly that, the first day.

Orientation (which is a number of days in every school) and your attitude toward it are what's important. Like so many other things, orientation is a process; so let's talk about arriving at school and orientation.

Begin building positive relationships- your modus operandi for your arrival and life at school.

Arrival Day For New Students
Opening day for new students can be a little slow, but it's mostly straightforward. You'll check-in at a main location; move through the different school departments making sure that each has all of the information that they need about you. Main office, dormitory, athletics, academics, infirmary/nurse is a normal course of events.

If all of your information is 'in the computer' these stops will be quick. If not, expect to spend a few minutes completing the deeds.

Meet, greet, introduce and shake hands with every faculty member and student you meet.

You'll spend most of your time moving into the dorm. (Hopefully you read our article What to Bring to a Boarding School and are following our advice about coordinating what to bring with your new roommate. You don't want to duplicate and have too much.)

With some luck or planning you'll arrive about the same time as your roommate so that you can coordinate the move. If not, it's no big deal.

Give yourself time. Arrive early so that you're not rushing later in the day.

Student leaders are usually out in force to help with the heavy lifting; this group often sports a colorful t-shirt uniform identifying them as a helpful resource. Expect them to introduce themselves and offer to help move your goodies from the car to the building.

Dorm parents will be on the halls helping you find your way around and answering questions. In most cases, they'll also give a quick lowdown on school policies and procedures.

Remember, upon arrival, school rules are in effect.

You'll find your dorm room raw and plain. Period. Get your stuff moved-in and unpacked. Let mom and dad help.

Store your bags, suitcases; most schools have some basement/attic storage.

Take and inventory. What do you need? If you've time, run last minute errands with your folks. Once you dive into orientation and the routine, off-campus trips become rare.

Attend all meetings and presentations
Various school departments will hold introductory meetings/presentations introducing themselves and giving contact information to parents.

Attend all of these. Learn the basic workings of the school. Who's who and which office does what. Put a name with a face. Parents learn whom to contact and students learn with whom to talk if you have a question.

Separating- the hard part
With your stuff moved in, all information in place and meetings over, it's time for mom and dad to leave. It's hard.

My advice for mom, dad, and student. Give ‘em a hug. Tell ‘em to be good; work hard; do what the school asks; and call if they need anything. That's it.

Check-in in a day or two.

Parents, obey the cardinal rule. Do not linger. Resist the urge to stay in the area and come back to campus- just to check- over the next few days.

Orientation has to be able to have its effect on students. Students need to meet each other. Focus on their new home. Learn the ropes of the institution and begin living and sharing with each other. The sooner these relationships grow and develop the sooner you'll start hearing about how great my new school is and how much your student loves his/her new home.

Opening of School rule of thumb: give your student and the school a minimum of 14 days to acclimate before visiting. Two weeks is about the time it takes to settle a school into the daily routine.

Fourteen days is minimum, waiting until Parent's Weekend- about 6-8 weeks into the fall- is ideal.

Our advice for orientation is simple. Attend and do everything.

New students normally come in for a day or two on their own to open the new year. This lets new students meet and share with each other before the knowledgeable old hands return to influence the chemistry.

Enjoy this first day or two; you'll meet all the new kids who have all of the same questions and much in common. Some of you will become friends for years.

Here the goal is simple; seek and find positive friends.

These first few days present the best opportunities to meet the widest range of people- before you have your areas such as dorm, athletic team, extracurriculars, and classes defined.

Get out. Meet as many community members as possible- students, faculty, office staff, maintenance, and kitchen staff. Participate in everything.

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