You Matter: Empowering Students at the Start of the School Year
By Casey Ainsworth, an MHS Middle Division Teacher
Summer is over and class is officially back in session. Transitioning from summer to the classroom can be a daunting task for students and teachers alike, and although I’ve been teaching for more than 11 years, it doesn’t get any easier. Challenge accepted!
Growing up, both of my parents worked at Milton Hershey School for over 40 years combined. Our home was always open to MHS students for visits, holidays, and summer vacations. My parents made sure that every student knew they mattered, and I want to follow their example.
Whether in the classroom or on the athletic field, I want my students to know they are not just a number or a name—they matter. Setting this precedent early on in the school year is vital to the growth of students.
MHS students have some unique mountains to climb as they walk into the school buildings and sit in their new classrooms for the first time. Every mountain is worthy of the climb, and teaching students to view them as worthy opponents instead of trying to avoid the challenge is very important.
In my classroom, I try to weave in simple activities during the first few weeks that allow students to get to know me better as well as their peers. Combining content-specific exercises with five-minute “get-to-know-you” activities can make a difference in whether or not a student feels accepted in the classroom environment.
Social studies also is a subject area that allows students’ voices to permeate some of the most difficult topics and events. I like to start off the year by setting a standard of acceptance for all students, because valuing everyone’s opinions is important for a year of open discussions and collaboration. New students often feel the most vulnerable in a new school, let alone a new classroom. By promoting acceptance and planning these types of activities, many feel like they are on the same playing field as students who have been at MHS for a longer period of time.
Ultimately, the first contact we have with each student is the beginning of a huge responsibility to not only enable them to see their potential, but also remind them they are incredibly important to all of us. I believe this quote is true for all of the staff on the MHS campus: