APS Column: How to make Welcoming Week last a whole year

Published 4:54 pm Friday, September 9, 2022

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By Principal Sheila Berger

Sumner Elementary School

Over the years, diversity in Austin has grown, with people from a wide variety of backgrounds coming together to help make our community stronger together. From September 9 to 18, Austin will celebrate Welcoming Week, an annual event designed to highlight and recognize the importance of diversity in our community. Here at Sumner Elementary School, we pride ourselves on our efforts to create a welcoming environment all year long.

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At Sumner, we use the “three greetings” technique to help build that welcoming environment and develop positive relationships with our students. Every morning, our goal is to greet every student three times before the school day begins. Some staff even serve as door greeters, stationing themselves outside before school starts, with the goal of wishing the students a good, productive day as they enter the building. Our staff work very hard to know and use each student’s name as research has shown the importance of using names when developing relationships with students.

The second greeting comes in the hall as the students move towards their classrooms. Again, the goal is to be greeted by name, further enforcing the concept that they are recognized and respected. Finally, the classroom teacher is stationed in the classroom doorway to give the student their final greeting as they come into the room.

There are many benefits to creating a welcoming environment for students, including increased attendance, strengthened student engagement, and positive student-teacher relationships, all of which help students be more successful. Additionally, over the past several years, school safety has been a focal point for our schools across the nation.  School safety experts advise that creating a welcoming environment where all individuals have positive relationships is a critical first step in securing a school.

Another way we work to develop a welcoming atmosphere is by providing literature in which the characters reflect our student population. Seeing yourself in a book is a critical way to help a student feel that they belong at school. Thanks to a few grants and diligent work by staff members, we have expanded our book selection over the past few years and added artwork that reflects the make-up of our student body. An ongoing goal for Austin Public Schools is to hire staff that reflects our student body. We have made a little progress but still need to expand this for the district.

Here at Sumner, we are looking forward not only to celebrating Welcoming Week in September, but also to developing a safe and welcoming environment for our students throughout the year. Our diversity is a strength, and the more we can celebrate it, the more we can make our students feel welcome in school.