Roxborough High rolls out unique welcome wagon for new students

     Roxborough High School Principal Dana Jenkins empowered 16 student ambassadors to help new teens feel like they're part of the

    Roxborough High School Principal Dana Jenkins empowered 16 student ambassadors to help new teens feel like they're part of the "Roxborough family." (NewsWorks, file art)

    For the past three years, staffers at Roxborough High School have worked tirelessly to make the school’s “persistently dangerous” past feel like a distant memory.

    Reforming the school’s culture has been a big part of a largely successful effort that both students and teachers say has made the hallways safer and unimpeded learning possible again.

    So, when Principal Dana Jenkins learned that the Philadelphia School District’s financial squeeze would considerably expand Roxborough’s student body, she got creative to help ensure things stayed on track.

    This school year, 16 Roxborough students are serving as ambassadors for the school.

    Welcome to the ‘family’

    The group, mostly juniors and seniors, is tasked with helping staff to smoothly bring the school’s new students into the fold, to make them feel like they’re truly part of what many refer to as the “Roxborough family.”

    “When you have students promoting what the expectations of the school are, it just really goes a long, long way,” said Jenkins, who served as Roxborough’s assistant principal last year. “Students tend to follow each other much more readily than they’ll follow adults.”

    As of Friday, Roxborough had approximately 630 students. The Ridge Avenue school ended last school year with 485.

    The majority of the new faces in the building come from Germantown High School, one of 24 schools that closed in June as part of the district’s facilities master plan, an effort aimed, in part, at addressing an ongoing budget crisis.

    Guide talk

    Longtime RHS students like senior Kayla Hadley will act as guides for new students throughout the school day.

    They’ll be available to point out where a classroom or bathroom is and what extracurricular activities are available. They’ll also remind students about school policies, including one that says students have three minutes to travel from class to class.

    “I want them to feel as though they’re home and that they’re welcome,” said Hadley, vice president of the senior class. “I don’t want them to feel like they’re pushed aside.”

    Some students and staff were a bit nervous about this school year, knowing that there’d be so many new students unfamiliar with the Roxborough way.

    To get a jump start on the transition, Jenkins organized a social over the summer so students from Roxborough and Germantown could start feeling each other out.

    She also specifically told staff not to refer to new students as “The Germantown students.”

    “We never from day one started out with ‘the other kids.’ They belong to us effective day one. They were ours,” said Jenkins.

    How’s it working?

    By end of the first week, it appears fears are starting to fade.

    “We had to kind of get out of that mindset because wherever they came from, they’re not students from there anymore,” Hadley said. “They’re like our family.”

    Fellow senior Marqui Kelly and other student ambassadors added that it’s been fun and exciting to show up to class not already knowing everyone in the room.

    “By the end of the year, we should all be fine,” said Kelly.

    From GHS to RHS

    When Germantown closed, the district gave students the option of transferring to Roxborough or Martin Luther King High in West Oak Lane.

    The vast majority, more than 400 students, chose King.

    Senior Samara Moore said she’s glad she went with Roxborough. The student ambassador program is one reason why.

    Though she’s still figuring out the ins and outs of Roxborough’s building and the neighborhood, she likes what she sees so far.

    “I’m having a good time,” said Moore.

    Senior Myeesha Powell is also pleased, particularly about how calm the hallways are at Roxborough. She said that gives her a chance to learn more.

    “Germantown, they would fight, like, every two days,” said Powell.

    Making their presence known

    In the coming weeks, giant photos of Roxborough’s student ambassadors will be hung in the hallways to make sure everyone knows about their availability.

    They’ll also remind students who some of the school’s leaders are, which Jenkins said she hopes will both help make this school year a good one and inspire others to serve similar roles moving forward.

    “Things don’t happen by accident or haphazardly,” she said. “You have to be purposed in making things happen and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

    Amanda Hartman, who has taught Spanish at RHS for three years, said she’s optimistic that Jenkins’ plan will pan out.

    “Both sets of students are the kind of students who are going to mesh really well,” she said. “They’re all from Philadelphia, they all want a good education and they all want to move forward in their lives.

    “I think that common core, that common theme is what’s going to bring them together in the long run.”

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.