Donovan Group Insights

Welcome Back Events: Planning for Inclusion and Excitement in 2024-25

The first day of school is months away. So, why should you start thinking about it now? That first day is about more than getting students back into the classroom. In fact, there are many ways for teachers, staff, families and local partners to get involved during back-to-school season.

One of the best ways to increase community participation is by hosting a series of welcome back events leading up to the first day of school.

The importance of welcome back events

Back-to-school season involves way more than telling families to mark the first day on their calendars. The beginning of a new school year promises growth, discoveries, achievements and a chance to strengthen relationships. There’s a lot worth celebrating! Welcome back events allow your school to celebrate alongside its teachers, students, families and community partners.

Consider these benefits of hosting a welcome back event:

  • Create the right headspace: Students often struggle with the transition from summer vacation to a new school year. Welcome back events give students an opportunity to be back in a learning environment and have a blast at the same time.
  • Build excitement around learning: As you know, some students are more eager to return to school than others. Welcome back events help students form positive associations with the first day of school, turning their apprehension into excitement.
  • Bring the entire community together: During summer break, everyone in the community goes their separate ways. Students, staff and families are visiting relatives, road tripping, camping, maybe even travelling abroad. Welcome back events allow the whole community to reunite under one roof.
  • Reignite relationships (and make new ones): Throughout the school year, teachers, staff, students and parents are used to interacting with each other on a daily basis. Summer often means going months without seeing those peers and colleagues. A welcome back event can do wonders for rekindling old connections.

The first day back isn’t just for students

Chances are, many in your community believe the first day of school is all about students returning to the classroom. While the main focus is diving back into learning, the first day of school is actually something everyone can participate in!

Here’s how many other groups in your community benefit from attending welcome back events:

  • Parents and family members: Back-to-school season is just as much about the parents as it is their children. At welcome back events, parents have the opportunity to meet new teachers, inquire about support services, discover ways to get involved at their children’s school, and much more.
  • Teachers and staff: Welcome back events allow teachers and staff to establish positive connections not only with their students, but the families they serve. They get to know more about each family’s specific needs, as well as gain a better understanding of how to support students throughout the year.
  • Community members: Welcome back events aren’t just for those who directly participate in your school. They open the door to community members who don’t have kids in school or any immediate reason to get involved in the district. Attract attendees with free food, games and entertainment, then show community members how they can support students and their education.

Add a theme to your welcome back event

Questions often arise in the process of planning a welcome back event: “Why exactly are we gathering together? What message do we want people to take away from our event?” An event theme can provide answers to these questions. No matter which theme you choose, it should be consistent with your district’s values and get your audience excited for another successful school year.

These steps will help you come up with an engaging, relevant theme for your back-to-school event:

  • Remember your mission, vision and values: An event theme should be unique to your school or district. Reviewing your district’s values, mission statement and vision for the future will allow you to pick a theme that’s in line with your school community’s culture. That way, the theme will be more likely to resonate with your audience.
  • Focus on the future: With every school year, there’s so much for students, families and staff to look forward to—new classes, new musicals, new programs and new teachers. The year ahead is full of potential, so why not create a theme that gets everyone excited about what’s to come?
  • Draw inspiration from your mascot: Think about your school’s mascot and what it stands for. Maybe your mascot is a symbol of strength, bravery, courage, knowledge or all of the above. One of these traits could serve as your event theme, echoing the unique personality that represents your mascot (and your community).

Activities to engage your audience

People are more likely to attend your welcome back event if they know what to expect—and, if they know there’s something they will enjoy. That’s why it’s important to plan activities that pique their interest. Find out what sounds fun to them, then find ways to provide that through your event.

Here are some ideas that will entertain attendees while rallying support for your school:

  • Raffles: Raffles provide a strong incentive for families and community members to contribute monetarily to your school. You raise funds for students, and participants get exciting prizes. It’s a win-win!
  • Silent auction: Just like raffles, silent auctions are a great way to raise money for grants, school supplies, programs and renovation projects. Get to know your audience, and choose items that will attract large bids.
  • Carnival games: In addition to raising donations, carnival games are excellent at engaging community members of all ages. Families can have fun while knowing the proceeds go to a worthy cause. Include some yard games that people can play for free as well.
  • Free food: Nothing draws in the crowds like free food! Provide complimentary snacks, refreshments or desserts to let everyone in your community know how much the school appreciates them all. Set up a free-will donation box near the serving tables in case attendees feel inclined to show some generosity.

How to leverage community partnerships

Back-to-school events don’t have to be exclusively hosted by school staff. You have many incredible partnerships with community groups and organizations, all of which possess subject matter expertise that can educate students while keeping them engaged.

Ask these community partners if they would like to host an activity at your welcome back event:

  • The public library: Library staff or a local book club can volunteer to host a read-aloud for little ones or inform middle and high school students on the many resources available to assist with class projects.
  • Fine arts programs: You could invite a local theater company to host mini plays or improvisation sessions for students. Or, ask an art gallery if they would like to lead an arts and crafts activity.
  • Public safety groups: Your local police department might be interested in hosting a K-9 “meet and greet” or giving safety tips for travelling to and from school. Similarly, the fire department could present about fire safety or give tours of their fire trucks.

How will you celebrate the new school year?

That first day back is a momentous occasion—not just for students, but for the entire school community. Aside from returning to the classroom, the first day of school is a time to reconnect with one another and celebrate all the opportunities students have to learn and grow.

What will your welcome back event look like? Start planning the event right now, so it can be a success when the school year is here!

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