By Cheri Atwood
I have been teaching at Paradise Adventist Academy in Northern California for 18 years. Every year we grapple with what to do on the first day of school that will really set the tone for the year. It seems as though we have found some success the last couple of years. Since we are a K-12 school, it is important to involve the entire school. We also want to be intentional at welcoming any new students and staff we might have. I am sharing what I believe to be a recipe that could be adapted to any school.
One: The team. As a staff, we partner with our Home and School leaders, board members, and pastors at Paradise Adventist Church. We feel it is important to show our new and returning students what a blessing it is to have such a supportive team. Teachers, staff, pastors, board members, and home and school leaders are present to help everyone feel welcome and a part of the PAA family. Family and community is important at PAA, so important it is one of our Expected School-Wide Learning Results (ESLRs). This event helps us fulfill one of our WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges) accrediting objectives in a fun and easy way.
Two: The Welcome Event. Our Home and School leaders hang a "Welcome" banner at the front of the school. Clusters of balloons, in school colors, are spread around the front entrance. They also provide some sort of breakfast treat for students and parents. Everyone is encouraged to join the fun! Teachers, pastors, and school board members are also on the front steps to welcome the students and pass out simple gifts. The school day begins at 8:00 a.m. for elementary students, so we get this event underway at 7:30. I am sponsor of our Associated Student Body (A.S.B.), and so we plan something special for the incoming freshmen and new high school students. It ranges from a welcome gift in their locker, to A.S.B. officers helping them open their lockers, which can sometimes be tricky. I am always amazed to see how the angst and nervousness seems to vanish when these kids realize their peers are there to assist them. I also believe it helps to bridge the gap between "new" and "returning" students. When the 8:10 bell rings, we bring together the high school and elementary students for a combined spiritual/prayer time.
Three: Inviting God. Again, at PAA, we believe it is important to begin our year with God, just as we do each school day. Prayer is an important part of our program; we encourage prayer in every classroom, so it is very natural that we take a short time to begin the year with prayer. I am the one that coordinates this segment. I have experimented with several different formats. One is, circling the school, starting with the Kindergartners, then 1st & 2nd, 3rd & 4th, 5th & 6th, 7th & 8th, the high school, and adults, by holding hands. This is a concept I learned from the book, The Circle Maker. I ask in advance for a teacher from K-4, 5-8, a high school teacher, an administrator, and our youth pastor to pray focusing on either a classroom or specific area within the school, i.e. the sports or music program. This is done corporately, using a microphone so everyone can hear. We end our prayer time with the A.S.B. Spiritual Vice-president praying especially for our campus and the year ahead.
Another variation, is to gather everyone (K-12) on the field by class. We first invite the new students to form a circle and we pray for them. We then add to the circle class-by-class, praying for each group as they join the circle. The entire school eventually forms one tightly-knit circle, where a final corporate prayer is given. No matter the format or configuration, connection with each other and God through prayer is always the focus. We end with a word from our principal, then everyone is dismissed to begin their school day.
Four: The Impact. It has become apparent to me, since we've been intentional about coming together as a school family in prayer, that the impact has been very positive. First, this provides a positive start to the year, by energizing students to be excited and engaged as they begin a new school year. Second, we have seen God working in mighty ways throughout the year on our campus. Mark Batterson, in his book, The Circle Maker, says, "Bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers. . .the greatest tragedy in life is the prayers that go unanswered because they go unasked." Paradise Adventist Academy believes in asking through prayer, and we have seen the miracle of prayer through both tragedy and triumph.
Cheri Atwood is the English and publications teacher at Paradise Adventist Academy
By Cheri Atwood