“Being a newcomer can be terrifying; you have no idea where to go or when, you are surrounded by strangers with behaviours you are not accustomed to. I have been there before, but what helped me fit in was introducing myself to teachers and classmates.
“Don’t be afraid to let people know who you are. I was also kind to fellow students and this made me comfortable to ask questions. I avoided making assumptions or judgements about the students at the new school. This helped me get to know them for who they are and I made friends in no time. What is important is participating in class, talking to people every day, befriending neighbours in class, looking for a discussion group, getting a sports activity, touring the school and reading school rules and regulations,” says Rita Mutesi, a former senior three student.
The beginning of the school year should be an exciting time, but it can be stressful and challenging for newcomers. Students who have joined new schools and different academic levels, need guidance on how to adjust.
John Mary Musinguzi, a teacher at Little Bears Montessori School, Kigali, says that teachers should be friendly and make the new students like the school. The school administration should encourage students to have a hobby and participate in activities, irrespective of how long they have been in that school. This gives them confidence and a sense of belonging.
“Prefects in the school should make newcomers feel at home by controlling bullying at school. It is upsetting to be bullied as you might lose the morale to study. Report bullying issues as soon as you experience them,” he says.
Musinguzi adds that students should learn that change is part of life. They should change with the environment and for the better. They should inquire before doing anything in the new environment.
He also says that teaching is not limited to teachers. Students can use their environment to learn a lot. The best learning is when peers teach you (peer education). Let newcomers learn from their friends and they will cope fast.
“Students can cope better in new schools mainly through orientation. When students join new schools, especially when they are joining a new level, for instance, from primary to secondary or from O level to A level, they should be told what to expect regarding the new lifestyle, career choices, and academics,” says Gilbert Nuwagaba, an English and Literature teacher at Maranyundo Girls School.
Nuwagaba says that the media, like radio stations, youth magazines like Nyampinga, and social media, should be used as a means of communicating and explaining to students what they expect and how they ought to behave in new schools, especially for those joining secondary and higher institutions of learning. Counselling is also necessary to prepare students for challenges ahead.
He says that students joining boarding school need to be briefed on health issues, and encouraged to have a personal timetable to learn to do things on their own as there will not always be parents to advise, encourage or discipline them. However, teachers should be consulted as much as possible because they act as parents when parents are away.
Halima Namulawa, a teacher at St Melanie Christian School, Kabuga, explains that coping in new schools requires interacting with others, not sitting back and keeping quiet. Engage in school activities like music and drama, games and other activities.
Students should be friendly to teachers; let them know when you face a challenge so that they find ways to help you.
According to Beatrice Musiimenta, a teacher at Wellspring Academy, Nyarutarama, new students always find it hard to cope with the new environment and community, they also find it hard to make new friends. Students need to read their students’ planner to guide them on the dos and don’ts of the school.
She says that before students start school, they should go with their parents to visit the school to find out where the classrooms are, which will help them before they start.