Preparation is key for helping your AFS student have a successful school and academic experience. This section is dedicated to the actions that should be taken before school starts, but when your student will need to be physically present.
For helpful tips about enrolling your student in school, scheduling classes, or things you can do to prepare for school before the student arrives in the U.S., please refer to the articles in the previous section titled “School District Enrollment”, “Registering Your AFS Student for Classes”, and “Pre-Arrival School Considerations”.
Navigating the School Building/Spaces
Many AFS students come from school systems in their home countries where the teachers change classrooms and not the students. Additionally, many of their school environments include a recess or extended break at some point in the day where students can go outside and play soccer or have a snack with friends and many go home to have their lunchtime meal with family. Therefore, the process of students having only a few minutes to go from class to class, only having a 30-minute lunch break, and navigating lockers and a large school campus for the first time can be overwhelming. Here are some suggestions to help your host student prepare for those first days of school.
- Help your student practice with a combination lock if your local school uses lockers. Many students have never had an actual locker at school nor have they had to use a combination lock to secure their belongings.
- Physically walk through the student’s schedule so they can see the distances between classrooms and understand the time allotment that they have between classes.
- Show them the daily school bell schedule and bus schedule so they are clear on the times for switching classes and getting to the bus stop.
- Take your student to get a sports physical if they intend to play sports during that academic year or semester.*
*Costs associated with sports physicals and immunizations are the responsibility of the student.
Getting to/from School
AFS recommends that, whenever possible, someone accompany your hosted participant to and from school during the first couple days, depending on the complexity/duration of the commute. This may be a host sibling that attends the same school, a classmate or neighbor, or an AFS Returnee who attends the same school. Even if your hosted student will ride the school bus to and from school, it’s best to walk them to the bus stop and make sure someone helps them know what landmarks to look for to know where and when to get off the bus. Many participants comment on how much houses and neighborhoods look alike in the U.S. as compared to their home countries.(Please see the Budget and Transportation section of the Participant and Host Family Questionnaire.)
If your local school is a 1:1 device school, please make sure to sit down with your host student to make sure they are comfortable using a computer or whatever device is provided by the school and talk to them about where to store it in your home. Additionally, most high schools use an online learning management system like Canvas, PowerSchool, Schoology, or Google Classroom. Please take the time to make sure students can log in and navigate platforms, as most will be expected to turn in their homework using these online systems and may have never used a similar system.
Titles for teachers and school staff are often used differently in other cultures than they are in the U.S. Be sure to let your host student know what the expectation will be in terms of how they are to address teachers in school. Most schools in the U.S. expect students to address teachers with their title and last name; for example, “Mr. Jones” or “Ms. Rodriguez.”
It may also be helpful to have a broader conversation about the use of titles in the United States. In general, the U.S. is a more egalitarian society than many other countries, so there are many situations in which all people, young and old, are addressed by their first names. This can be confusing for your participant, so be sure to inform them as to what is appropriate in different situations.
Distinguishing between the School Counselor & AFS Liaison
One area that sets AFS apart from other organizations is the level of involvement from the local AFS liaison. This volunteer’s role is to build relationships with your host student AND with you and your family to help everyone have a smooth year. They can engage in conversations with either group about all things related to routines, hygiene, communication, etc… and they can provide guidance or advice on how to work through any issues.
The school counselor that helped to register your host student for classes, should not be the “go to” person for your host student if they are having a struggle at home, with friends, or in the community. The school counselor’s role is to help the student understand how to navigate their classes, make sure their classes are a good fit, help them connect to club and activity sponsors, and connect them to resources if they are struggling to adjust in the academic environment. Many school counselors will say to AFS students that they have an open door and they are happy to help the student anytime, however, the underlying message is those are for academic and school-related discussions.
Exchange students may have a difficult time distinguishing between situations that should be discussed with their liaison and those appropriate for the school counselor unless you help them understand the difference since both play supporting roles and counselors are easy to find in the school building every day and liaisons are a phone call or text away.