Incoming Grade 8s at North Delta Secondary got some unexpected visitors last week when the school’s administrators dropped by to introduce themselves and hand-deliver welcome letters to the students.
Between Aug. 19 and 22, NDSS principal Aaron Akune, along with vice-principals Kevin Dalgetty and Ben Scarr and a small group of student volunteers, made the rounds delivering the letters and giving the students’ families a chance to meet them before the start of the school year on Tuesday, Sept. 3.
“If it says nothing else, it says hey, you matter enough to us that we’re going to take the time to come to you to try and initiate that relationship,” Akune said.
“We’re probably working with [the students] for five years so why not make the first point of contact a positive one.”
“I was familiar with the idea,” Dalgetty said. “So I was receptive to the idea, thinking it would be a good idea, especially after our first few months here trying to reach out and connect with the community that is based around the school.”
1st day back. Pleasure to have started by visiting 60 homes today to welcome our new Grade 8 students & their families to @north_delta! An investment well worth it to build relationships & communicate an unquestionable level of caring. #WeAreND #sd37 @deltasd37 pic.twitter.com/aFsEfY9Mzx
— Aaron Akune (@aakune) August 20, 2019
The idea for delivering the letters came from a blog post by an American high-school principal that Akune read during the summer of 2017, when he was principal at Sands Secondary. That August, Akune made the rounds with vice-principal Joanna Macintosh, visiting 136 homes over three days.
This year was Akune’s first time delivering letters as principal of NDSS, a post he took over in September 2018, and he enlisted the help of Hindi- and Punjabi-speaking students from the school’s leadership club to help with the deliveries and to translate for him when visiting non-English speaking families.
“The biggest challenge we were anticipating, which is where [our volunteers] came in, was the language barrier,” Akune said.
Student volunteer Sandeep Rakhra related a bit of positive feedback a parent had given to him after translating for Akune and company: “Convenient that you brought a translator because there’s a lot of Punjabi speaking community here.”
Not only did the student volunteers help break down the language barrier, they also introduced themselves to incoming Grade 8 students as someone who they could ask for help during their transition from elementary to high school.
“[The] first day of school can be kind of nerve-wracking,” student volunteer Anisha Gill said. “Knowing someone who can say hello to you and call you by your first name, and maybe have the connection of being able to speak the same language, is a great start to the school year.”
“A lot of us are helping out the Grade 8s within the first year of school,” student volunteer Haris Muhammad said. “So they might not remember our names [from] when we went door to door, but when we are doing our presentations about school expectations they’ll recognize us so that we can build the sort of friendship within that first year of school.”
Over the span of four days, Akune and his team delivered letters to 200 homes, with the student volunteers translating their greetings at about a third of them.
That personal touch and face-to-face contact is already having a positive effect and helping to build bridges between the school and the families of its students, with many of them reaching out to thank Akune and his team for their warm welcome to NDSS.
— with files from Grace Kennedy
3.5 days, 200 homes visits, 100 face-to-face welcome greetings. Great wk of delivering letters, connecting with families who we’ll partner with @north_delta for 5 yrs. Building relationships, trust & community, one family at a time! #huskypride #huskyhighlights #sd37 @deltasd37 pic.twitter.com/UbMaIlhi0e
— Aaron Akune (@aakune) August 24, 2019