Heading into this school year, I made it a goal of mine to get into as many classrooms as possible each week to allow me to hear directly from our students and see our teachers in action. Last week I was in a Middle School math class where students are not necessarily in the same grade due to their individual acceleration level. I asked a student how long he had been at STEM and he said he is new this year. It brought to mind again how challenging it must be for our new students to make friends while wearing masks and being socially distanced throughout their day.
Traditionally, new students at STEM are rapidly assimilated with the rich-PBL experience in the classroom and access to multiple opportunities to meet fellow students throughout the campus. Working in small groups throughout the day allowed a very natural onramp to finding and making new friends. And now, in this new COVID environment, some of these opportunities are impacted.
Recently at a social event (following all guidelines for safety or course), I met a young, newly-married couple who are both physicians. One was from rural Pennsylvania and said she never had a friend until college. She did not connect with others from her rural community and wanted to attend boarding school for High School, but family finances did not provide that opportunity. So, she made the best of her teen years by preparing for AP exams alone. Her husband said he never had a friend in school until he was able to attend a selective STEM magnet for grades 11 and 12 in North Carolina. He made five life-long friends that enrich his life beyond measure, then and now.
Both instances impressed upon me how important building strong relationships is to personal growth.
I have heard from so many students (their parents) that their experience at STEM is the first place where a friend was made, and often many friends. Life is experienced in very different ways when a child has a friend. Parents have frequently told me their child is happiest when at school because they have found their tribe.
STEM School Highlands Ranch is a beacon to students needing a different intensity of education than offered by their neighborhood school. This self-selection concentrates an amazing array of students with intense areas of interest, allowing for them to relate to one-another to create strong bonds..
How to help our new-to-STEM students make connections to find friends is a challenge in a COVID world. If you haven’t already, please consider encouraging your STEM student(s) to be inclusive of our new students, as others were for them. If you have concerns that your child does not have a friend, please reach out to their school counselor for ideas, and to alert our teachers to this need. There are many strategies to provide opportunities to make friends at school from kindergarten through 12th grade.
One friend can make school a place of belonging.
P.J. Eucker PhD