Girl moving into dorm room with desk, dresser, and bed

As you approach the final days of summer break, you’re probably thinking about the start of school. While going back this year will be different because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Northfield Mount Hermon’s student support team — which includes student leaders as well as Dean of Student Life Programs Kristen Peterson, Director of Counseling Johanna Callard, and Dean of Equity and Social Justice Martha Neubert — has helpful tips to offer both day and boarding students for making connections with peers and adults at school.

Tips for parents …

Normalize the change and acknowledge the unknowns. Transitions can be stressful. Invite your student into a conversation about expectations and anxieties they might have about the upcoming school year. Remind them of other big transitions they have navigated in their life, and what coping methods have been most helpful to them in the past. This transition definitely comes with more unknowns than any of us have ever experienced, but focus on what your student can do, and what they do know about the school year ahead. Empathize with them and create space for listening to what they are feeling about what can’t be addressed or controlled right now. 

Encourage them to adjust their sleep patterns. Students often struggle with adjusting their sleep schedules when they arrive on campus and start classes. If possible, encourage your student to start that process the week before coming to school, gradually going to sleep earlier and waking up earlier.

Encourage them to connect with friends. It helps for returning students to reach out to school friends a few weeks before returning to campus. Reaffirming these connections helps ease anticipatory anxiety about the transition back into the school community. If your student is new to a school, look for welcome or informational sessions that may be held in the weeks leading up to the start of school, and attend — or encourage your student to attend.

Students sit, socially distanced with their pod in their dorm's lounge.

Tips for students … 

Be yourself. If you are new to a school, you’ll be excited and a little nervous about meeting people. Try to relax. Everyone is probably nervous, too. Be as friendly as you can.

Be considerate. For boarders, it’s best to wait until your roommate arrives to make decisions about which side of the room you take and how the furniture will be arranged. Since you are sharing space and each of you has a right to be comfortable, it is important to decide together what setup works for both of you.

First impressions are just that — first impressions. People might not be 100 percent themselves when they encounter a new environment and settle into a school community. It takes time and effort to get to know someone, so ask questions about your new acquaintances’ lives, families, and interests.

Embrace multiculturalism. Some people you meet will be like you, but a lot of people will not. We hope that’s part of the reason you chose an independent school environment. Chances are your roommate and your other new friends will have a different background than you do. Try to put aside your assumptions. Being in a multicultural community is an amazing opportunity to build new relationships!

Flexibility is key. Boarders, be honest with your roommate about your living needs, but be willing to adapt. It’s all about compromise when you’re sharing a space. Ask yourself what you really need and what you’re willing to budge on. 

Kindness is everything. Some people will have an easier time than others in making the transition to a new routine and community. If your roommate is struggling — or if you see other new students who are struggling — try to help. Chat with them. Sometimes all a person needs is a little encouragement and support.

Talk with (not about) your roommate and new classmates. If something is bothering you about your living situation or about a dynamic in one of your classes, talk calmly with your roommate or new classmate about the situation. It’s tempting to talk to your friends instead, but gossip and rumors get started this way and will get you nowhere. People aren’t mind readers; they can’t know there’s a problem (and can’t help fix it) unless you mention your concerns.

Branch out. Try not to spend all your free time with the same friends. Be sure to find activities that connect you with different people. The time apart from your roommate or closest friends will give you something to talk about when you are together, and meeting each other’s new friends means you will know twice as many people.

Ask, don’t assume. Roommates, make a plan about which room items you’ll share and which ones you won’t. Never assume you can use or borrow any of your roommate’s belongings without permission. When in doubt, ask.

Asking for help is a strength. Living with someone and forming close friendships outside a dorm room can be a lot of fun, but it can also be challenging. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Go to your advisor, dorm parents, and Resident Leaders for advice. They are there to help.