Teacher at Springwoods Elementary School being welcoming for her students

Every Prince William County Public School knows how critical the first week of school is to provide a welcoming, supportive, and safe environment for students, especially if it is the first-first day of school. An environment that fosters inclusivity, connectedness, and encouragement for social and emotional wellness begins even before students step into the building.

“It’s making the kids feel as comfortable as possible. It starts with welcoming our students back with open arms and showing them how excited we are to have them back,” said Kenneth Harkins, assistant principal of Springwoods Elementary School. “When our students came in, we had the music playing, the bubble machines out, our energy was high, and we had our mascot, Emmet the Eagle, out welcoming students back.” The effect was smiling student faces, beaming parents, and laughing teachers.

For new students and kindergarteners, joining “The Nest” is a big part of building community. Like many elementary schools, Springwoods Elementary follows a house system. Their motto “4 Eagle Nests and 1 Eagle Nation,” represents character traits that students and staff aim to live by. All staff and students belong to one of the nests, which all have unique colors, mascots, cheers, and chants. Throughout the first week of school, students either select their house or drop the Plinko chip to decide their nest.

“From day one, we only have so much time with our students, and we have a lot to get done,” commented Harkins, “so, providing that sense of community is a top commitment.”

Even before the first day of school, the Springwoods Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) held a Back-to-School swap where families could come to swap for new school supplies, learn important information, and begin building a school community. The PTA even hosted a movie night the Friday before school began. Harkins acknowledges how the partnership between Springwoods and their PTA is foundational in student belonging and academic success. “It’s about building and reinforcing trust.”

From the comfort level of students in the classroom in asking questions to the respectful way students carried themselves in the hallways, it is clear Springwoods Elementary School knows how to create a positive climate and culture.