School Orientation & Open House
Open houses and orientations are structured programs of school, parent and student outreach. As school-initiated, school site-based events, open houses and orientations aid in developing and sustaining cohesive relationships, commitments, coherent approaches and capacities for school improvement. The purposes of open houses and orientations, which are summarized in this article, are broad-based. Open houses and orientations are vital, visible components of school-community linkages, and they serve as effective means of school-parent communication. The purpose of some open houses and orientations is to assist students in adjusting and transitioning from one grade or school level to the next. Research has shown that parental attendance, involvement and participation in school open houses and orientations are essential in helping children attain optimal success in school academically and behaviorally.
Keywords Adjustment Anxiety; Adjustments; Articulation; High-Touch Approach; Instructional Cycles; Open-Door Policy; Open Houses; Orientations; Outreach; Parental Involvement; Parental Visitation; Public Relations; School-Visitation Programs; Transitions
Curriculum Organization: School Orientation
Open houses and orientations have existed as long as there have been schools. There has always been a need for schools to help parents and students cope with new, confusing and anxiety-producing situations. In the 1950s, for example, U. S. schools used open houses and orientations to provide parents and schoolchildren with the fundamentals of civil-defense training. Schools typically hold a series of open houses and orientations throughout the school year. They are normally conducted outside regular school hours.
The programs and activities associated with open houses and orientations require careful planning, organization, preparation, publicity and follow-up. Open houses and orientations aim to increase public, community and family awareness, as well as understanding and appreciation of education. Parental choice and involvement—factors over which educators have little control—play important roles in the success of open houses and orientations. These school-initiated, school site-based structured programs of school, parent and student outreach are strategies to engage parents and their schoolchildren. They are often lively events of unique character that range from "kindergarten roundups" to high-school orientations (Lindeman & Sopko, 2006; National Education Association, 1973).
Open houses and orientation programs are variously referred to as
• School open houses
• Student open houses
• Special open houses
• Open houses for parents
• Parent nights
• Parent visitations or visits
• Parent visiting days or nights
• Parent orientations
• Student orientations
• Special orientations
• Orientation days
• Orientation nights or evenings
Other similarly named events include back-to-school nights, "meet-the-teacher" days and nights, and "show-and-tell" parent nights.
Schools may hold a series of open houses or orientations at the beginning of, and then throughout the school year. Some are routinely scheduled in August before classes begin. Programs for students transitioning from one grade to the next, or from one school level to the next, may be held during days or evenings. Activities are normally, but not always, scheduled and conducted outside regular school hours, for example, before-school or after-school open houses or orientations (Zadeh, 1993).
These types of school programs are visible to the community and are key components of school-community linkages. This approach involves community members as well as students, teachers and parents. School-community relations depend on good communication and school open houses and orientations are effective means of school-parent communication. Advisory open houses and orientations addressing specific subjects bring parents to schools to receive vital information concerning their children's education (Bobango, 1994; Reddick & Peach, 1987).
Parents visit their child's school during this time to attend scheduled events. Open houses and orientations illustrate the influence of home—parents and families—in children's learning and achievement in school, creating a link between parents and schools. Parents may also attend individually scheduled parent-teacher conferences or become involved as members of the local Parent and Teacher Association or PTA (Dubble, 1995; Lindeman & Sopko, 2006).
In the 1950s, U. S. schools used open houses and orientations to provide parents and school children with the fundamentals of civil-defense training. This is one example which shows that there has always been a need for schools to help students and parents cope with new, confusing and anxiety-producing situations. Open houses and orientations are traditional means that schools have used to update and inform parents, especially during unsettling transitional periods for students, such as when they are leaving one student body and entering a new and different student body. Open-house/orientation activities help to correct misconceptions of new students as they become members of a different student body. For example, effective high-school orientation programs, based on social-psychological principles, were recognized in the 1950s as ways to reduce the conflict and insecurity resulting from changing group memberships of beginning freshmen (Gleason, 1957; Meek, 1957; Smith & Josse, 1957).
Open houses and orientations were used in the 1970s to increase parental and public understanding of schools, and to secure civic and community support for programs and measures to improve schools. In an era when there was public skepticism and concern as to what schools were teaching kids, open houses and orientations were held to encourage parents to visit their children's schools and to let the general public know what schoolchildren were learning (Clary, 1978; National Education Association, 1975).
Despite the assistance that open houses and orientations provide, they have historically had to battle for parental attendance. Whether in 1970s-era schools or turn-of-the-21st-century schools, there have been recurrent news articles and widespread reports of declining parent involvement and generally small attendance at many open houses and orientations (Decker & Majerczyk, 2000; Elam, 1974).
Open houses and orientations publicize, sell and market school programs. As a marketing strategy, they attract students and help to maintain and increase enrollment (Hackensack Public Schools, 1973; National Education Association, 1973).
Open houses and orientations garner successful and meaningful community involvement in the schools. They encourage and strengthen school-community cooperation, acquaint the community with its schools and collaboratively involve the community in schools, serving to help schools accomplish public-relations goals and create positive public images. They demonstrate that schools are there to serve the public and the community (Berne, 1973; Elam, 1974; National Education Association, 1973).
Another important goal is to promote students' belonging and connectedness to school. There is a general desire to enhance and strengthen child-school and family-school connections. Open houses and orientations help to break down barriers between educators and parents and students. A related goal is to encourage the creation of family-friendly schools and classrooms and to maintain an open-door policy for parents and families (Akos, Creamer, & Masina, 2004; Cahoy & Bichel, 2004; Decker & Majerczyk, 2000; University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, 1999).
Schools have the primary responsibility of encouraging good parent-school relations. Open houses and orientations are among a variety of activities that can be used to build and nurture parent and student relationships with schools. They promote the inclusion of parents and students, get parents to be active and encourage discussions and networking among parents. They help to accommodate and meet the special needs of parents, students and families, and improve parent and student attitudes toward school (Aronson, 1995; Kraus, 1993; Oregon State Department of Education, 1990).
Open houses and orientations keep parents informed and provide first-hand information about expected school entry skills their children should possess. Schools use the occasions as opportunities to make known achievements, problems and needs, to explain school programs and answer questions from students and parents. They provide directions, information and help to new students, and advise and instruct them on dealing with changes. Students learn about school and teacher policies and are familiarized with appropriate school-related behaviors (Borgen, 1978; Huey, 1985; National Education Association, 1973).
Reducing Transition Anxiety
Pre-enrollment open houses and orientations help to reduce adjustment anxiety of students and parents related to transitions to the next school or grade level (Kauffman & Kavinsky, 1980). They can provide personalized and individualized assistance to entering students (e.g., high-school freshmen) to help them in making social...
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