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Supporting Students Whose Families Are Constantly On the Move


This piece is reprinted from The Marshall Memo, Kim Marshall’s weekly summary of current research and best practices in the field of education. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, consultant, and writer, Kim Marshall lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
The article: “Welcoming Highly Mobile Students” by Ruby Payne in AMLE Magazine, February 2016 (Vol. 3, #6, p. 10-12); Payne can be reached at
In this article in AMLE Magazine, author/consultant Ruby Payne offers suggestions for how schools should handle students enrolling in the middle of the year, some of whom have been uprooted from their apartments in the middle of the night just ahead of eviction. Putting herself in the shoes of such a student, Payne writes, “You aren’t happy to go to your new school. You know it will take at least one fight to establish that you aren’t a wimp. Is your teacher happy to see you? Well, you’re the fourth new student she has added this week. You just want to be left alone. You’re tired, hungry, and miserable. You don’t know where anything in the school is. And you think you will have to move again pretty soon because it won’t be long before your mom and her sister get into a fight.”
Being prepared to support the onboarding of students like these is an important school responsibility, says Payne. Here are her suggestions:
• Arrange for the PTA or someone else in the school to prepare “new student” folders that contain items like these:
- A pad of paper;
- A pencil or pen;
- A map of the school;
- Coupons for free lunches for several days;
- A magnet with the school’s name, address, phone number, school hours, principal’s name, school website, holidays and vacations, and days report cards are issued;
- A DVD showing adults how to get into the building, where to sign in, what each wing of the building looks like, where the cafeteria and gym are located, and where to park when visiting by car.
• Assign a student “ambassador” to help each new student find his or her way around and eat lunch with the student for a week, helping him or her feel included.
• Assign an adult to check in with each new student for 3-5 minutes every day, and make sure the student has a relationship with at least one adult in the school.
• Have the school counselor call the family after the first week to talk about the child and ask if additional support is needed.
Why go to all this trouble when the student will probably move again within a few months? “No responsible educator would, in effect, punish students for coming from an unstable, unpredictable environment by ignoring them and seeing them as a burden,” says Payne. “When students believe there is an adult who cares for them, that they are important enough to be given support, they are less likely to become ‘social isolates’ who cause problems.” It’s even possible that, if the family has to move again, the parents advocate to keep their children in the same school.

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