The first day of school has always been one of my favorite days of the year because I love the excitement of having a community back together again after the break. The first day of school looks a little different at different schools, but all tend to have some type of community gathering to mark the new year. Some schools have an opening assembly, others have a liturgy, and some have a formal convocation. This year at Coastside Leadership Academy we held a Welcome Ceremony to honor our students, their journey’s over the summer, and celebrate who they are in the present as we rejoined as a community.
For our Welcome Ceremony, we wanted to recognize that our students had been learning and growing while away from CLA, and give them an opportunity to share their experiences. Each student would be given time during the ceremony to talk about the things they have been thinking about, any important changes in their lives, or other moments during their summer that were impactful for them. We called this “New Year, New You” to acknowledge that some of them may feel like they were coming to CLA this fall as different people.
To start, Lindsay and I shared our learnings from the summer and what we had been integrating into our lives, as a model. I briefly talked about my journey with my back injury and also how I have gained a deeper understanding of what acceptance and surrender means. We gave the students prompts and sentence starters to help them reflect on their own learnings and told them that they could write, draw, or create another way to gather their thoughts so that they could deliver their “New Year, New You” message to the group during the ceremony. We gave our students time to find a sit spot in the forest to reflect.
These are the questions we gave our students to help start their reflections.
New Year New You
- What were your expectations for this summer, and how have they compared to your actual experiences?
- When you think back on the past few months, what moments stand out as the most meaningful or significant to you?
- Can you identify any patterns or trends in your emotions, thoughts, or actions throughout these months?
- How has this summer helped you grow as an individual? What areas do you feel you’ve developed in?
- Are there any activities or experiences that have changed your perspective on something or challenged your existing beliefs?
- Have you discovered any new interests, passions, or hobbies that you’d like to continue pursuing?
- What’s something unexpected that you’ve discovered about the world around you or about people you’ve interacted with this summer?
With our reflections written, we went down to the beach and created a space for the ceremony. Each community member gathered shells, rocks, sticks, and plants to add to the center of the circle. We had students create an art piece with their names in watercolor and write a letter to themselves that we would give back to them on the last day of programming. The center of our circle became a colorful piece of community art that represented all of us.
During the ceremony, it was moving to hear our student’s reflections. They talked about changes in their lives, new realizations about themselves, hopes for the year, and I was amazed by their vulnerability on the first day. When you give teens a platform to speak about where they are in their lives, it is beautiful to hear their authentic voices. After each person spoke we validated their journey by saying “we see you, we hear you, we are with you,” in unison.
To close our ceremony and officially welcome in the new school year, we held a gratitude circle for the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, our primary learning space. Each person said something they were grateful for about the reserve.
We went round and round in our circle, until we didn’t have any words left and the entire reserve was thanked. It was a bonding experience for the community and I was so proud of our students. The 2023-2024 cohort has officially begun! I am excited to continue our joy, healing, and growth at CLA this year.