Hi, I’m Alizae.

Overview

Each High School community has new members coming in whether it is from a different country or just coming into High School as a Freshman. Do you remember how it felt to be a Freshman in High School? How it felt to be a new kid where you had to meet hundreds of new faces? This can be quite overwhelming and can cause people to form or worsen their mental health issues, depending on what their support system is. Especially during this time in someone’s life, ages 12-18, it is crucial that there is an open community to allow people to flourish and prevent ‘Self Identity Threats.’ Many studies have shown the importance of a community and how an open community can benefit people and diminish identity threats, anxiety, depression, and more. 

This being said a lot of schools have been trying to implement an open community, however a lot of these schools are doing it for publicity purposes. They are more worried about what it will look like on the outside if they have these buddy programs, than actually working to make these new kids feel welcome. Does your school’s community feel real or fake? Do you think the buddy programs at your school help make these kids feel welcome or are these programs just for publicity?

 

Open-Mind, Open Community

Throughout the transition new kids face, it is crucial that they have people with whom they feel free to interact with, however, as mentioned before teenagers can be difficult to interact with when you are the new kid. Many studies have shown the importance of open communities. These open communities are so crucial not only for their mental health and finding out who they are, but also their education whether they will drop out of High School, or go onto college.

To the right are some basic characteristics in creating these open communities to make transitions easier that were found through these studies and research. The main one that was shown across the board is being open-minded. Having both the teachers and students being open-minded allows for the community to grow and evolve as new cultures and people arrive to the schools. This allows for room for exploration in the lives of the students, so that they can find their passions and new friends. 

Information comes from the sources in Works Sited

Case Studies

I have personally gone through two types of buddy programs to make transitions to new schools a lot better, one worked great, while the other did not work so well. I will be focusing on stories from other people who I have talked to that have gone through either one of the programs, as well as those who are the leaders (the people who volunteer to be buddies). 

The first experience will be from a Public High School in Virginia, USA.The program at this school was called ‘Link Crew’ The objective of Link Crew is to make transitions between middle school and high school as seamless as possible and create communities between grades. The person I will be talking about is a girl who struggled through middle school for many years with mental health issues. She had a lot of depressive episodes during her years in middle school and was anxious about the transition into High School, so much so that she had panic attacks about it at times. On the first day with your Link Crew group, you have an orientation day, and a Grade 9 day. The orientation day allows seniors and juniors to show the Freshman around the school to calm down their nerves and stress for their first day. The Grade 9 day was a day full of games led by seniors and juniors to get to know one another better and create a community. This girl who had depressive episodes and panic attacks about High School had a great transition into High School. She found things she was passionate about, created great connections with people outside of her grade in the first couple of weeks of school and more. The community at this school was truly open-minded and inclusive, they invited everyone to everything. The leaders in the Link Crew groups were there to “help Freshman through this rough transition as [they] remember how the transition can be very difficult.” This community according to both the girl who has gone through the program, as well as the leaders all told me that they felt the school was one community and that everyone respected everyone. Not everyone was friends but there was mutual respect and open-mindedness from teachers and students. 

High School Link Crew groups ready for a football game together. (Source: Dominion Link Crew Twitter Page)

The Link Crew program worked great for both that girl mentioned above, as well as myself. I was able to join the soccer team and have friends within every grade. The transition was easy. However, I soon had to make another transition across the country to Dubai. For this program, I will be talking not about my experience mainly but about yet another student’s experience. The program I will be talking about next is called ‘Falcon Buddy.’

The boy I will be talking about had previously been at the American School of Dubai in elementary school, however with international schools not many students stay that long. He was moving back to the school after spending multiple years in South Africa where he considered himself to have a very good life and start of High School. At his old school he was considered ‘popular’. He was well known around the school and as he told me “everyone knew everyone, we were all close with one another.” He later transitioned into the American School of Dubai where he was forced to start over again. At the American School of Dubai you get a Falcon Buddy that you exchange emails with throughout the summer so that you know someone at school, however during his experience he only emailed his Buddy once (same went for me). He told me that “the emails were not very inviting, and that they seemed forced.” Following the summer the Falcon Buddies and their new students meet one another a day before the start of school, for orientation where they show you around school and play a couple icebreaker games. However, at the American School of Dubai, they make each grade level interact with their own grade level, there was no mixing of grade levels within the orientation. After the orientation it was the first day of school. This boy, had trouble making friends. He told me many times that he was having trouble fitting into the community at this school, and that everyone is stuck within their own cliques. It made him feel lonely and made his self-esteem go down. As well he was having trouble figuring out who he was exactly. A year later, he became the lead in a musical and grew better connections through that, but the transition for him was difficult. The same goes for me. I still do not feel like I belong at my current school as the school is very cliquey and not open-minded, even if they advertise it to be. When talking to leaders of this Falcon Buddy program many of them told me “it will look good on college applications.” The American School of Dubai feels like they use their Falcon Buddy program as a publicity stunt, and that the leaders do not care as much as they probably should. Me and the boy mentioned before had very difficult transitions into the new environment as they are very secluded and closed off.

Superintendent posing with the Falcon Buddies. (Source:dreambox.com)

Please answer the survey below about your own school and community.

Loading…

For Now

Currently I am trying to get the community at my current school to hear me and talk with administration about the issues at my school, the American School of Dubai. My teachers all know the issues I have with the community, they are not personal issues, but issues that can cause new students severe shock and sadness as they transition into the new school. I make sure to talk to teachers about ways to help improve and I have mentioned to counselors the issues the school has, but the problem can only be solved if the students as well as the teachers become open-minded. So far, a majority of my school is close-minded, they stay within their circle of friends and never leave. I have communicated with a majority of my peers that they need to be more open, but only a couple have heard what I had to say. I will still try to get my community to become more open-minded before I leave, but in the mean time I need all of your help.

Call to Action

I ask you all to seriously think about your community at your school. Are they open-minded? Do you all respect one another? Do you reach out to people if they seem sad even if you aren’t friends? I want you all to start doing these things. I believe the best way to improve these transitions for students is to make your voices heard, even if it is difficult to do so. Talk to counselors, talk to administration about activities and games you can do between grades. Ask you administration to help plan a day where you all interact with one another, this will help establish the easy communication as well as mutual respect. The characteristics that make communities more open are the ones listed above: 

Work towards making your community a more open space. Allow you and your fellow classmates to find their true identity and feel safe with where they are, don’t make High School harder than it already is. 

Finally, here is the link to my Works Cited.

5 comments

  1. Hi Alizae. First off, your website looks amazing! I think your project is really important. I once was new to an international school and it was pretty scary. I feel like if I had entered a school where your suggestions and planning were at play, I would have had a much better experience. My favorite part of your project is how you have successfully boiled down the key aspects a community needs to be open. When I look at these four characteristics, I can really identify how each plays a role in my community. The job you set out to do is incredibly difficult, especially considering we are dealing with stressed-out teenagers. I am thinking I would like to send your website to my school’s mental health advisory board as my school definitely struggles with having an open community. Thank you!

  2. Hey Alizae! I really enjoyed your page. This is an aspect of mental health that I didn’t really think about, but after reading about your project, I realize just how important having a community in high school is to students’ mental well-being. Reflecting on the community at my school, I would say we’re pretty average. We are definitely more open and welcoming than I have heard other schools to be, but at the same time, my grade in particular is pretty divided into groups. Still, I’d say the vast majority of people at my school have a friend group and sense of community (even if these communities are rather separate from each other), which I think is good. Thank you for doing this project, I think it will do a lot of good at your school and will help those of us reading it to create more open communities. 🙂

  3. Hi Alizae! I loved reading about your project and I found that I could relate to a lot of it. I have moved a couple times so I have definitely experienced what it is like to move to a new school and not know anybody. When I moved to the school I currently go to, they had a similar type of buddy program. I was paired with a girl in my grade and we hung out a couple times over the summer so I could get to know more people at my school before starting in the fall. Similar to you, I joined the volleyball team when I moved to my new school and I found that it really helped me make friends in a new environment. Having an open and supportive community is so important and I definitely agree that it helps students feel more safe. Great job!

  4. Hi Alizae! I really enjoyed reading your project! I think I could definitely relate a lot to this topic because I’ve had the experience of studying abroad and study in a new school with new faces. I was kind of stressed out at the freshman orientation because I didn’t know anyone from my new school, and most of the freshman knew each other because they are all from the same middle school. Fortunately, I believe the community at my school is open-minded and both teachers and my classmates had warm welcomes to international students like me. I think I would certainly reach out to new students if I notice that they are alone and seem sad. Thank you for making this project! Really great job!

  5. Hi Alizae, I love your topic! I also moved to ASD in the middle of high school and found the transition quite difficult due to the community of the school. I think that the only way to ‘solve’ this problem is for students to collectively change their mindset, but that is something that doesn’t happen overnight. Also, I like how you mentioned that the issue of open communities affects every school as there will always be new students coming in. I agree that having a buddy system that is with students that truly care about their community is important as it can make the transition into the school easier. Good job on your project!

Leave a Reply