Orchard Hill Principal Brent Barry leads new students, from left, Jesse Vasquez, Gus Vasquez and Braidyn Farschon on a tour of the school. - Jamie Lusch

New Hawks on tour

During a tour Thursday for students new to Orchard Hill Elementary School, second-grader Gus Vasquez was intrigued by a trap door in a small stage in the Story Room.

"Why do you have a secret passage?" Gus asked.

There is no secret passage, explained media specialist Barb Thomas. The space underneath (only a couple feet deep) is used for storage.

Thomas conducts the half-hour tours each week when there are new students at the school. The tour is part of a multistep process to make kids feel welcome and assess their needs.

"We let them know transferring schools can be difficult," said Principal Brent Barry. "We have to make sure they are safe and included."

When Barry became principal of the Phoenix-Talent District school in 2010, Thomas asked that the tours be reinstated. This year, there's been a tour each week since October, most with multiple students.

"It just makes it nice to know some of the rules and where things are," said Thomas.

Also on tour Thursday was Gus' brother Jessie, a fifth-grader. The pair moved from Redmond. Third-grader Braidyn Farschon came from Grants Pass, as did first-grader Rylee Lafazia. A kindergarten girl from Northern California was also in the group.

Among stops were an art-supply room, computer center, library, lost-and-found, music room, gym and cafeteria.

"This is much better," Gus said as he surveyed coats in the lost-and-found hung neatly on hangers, in contrast to more haphazard arrangements at his old school.

Older students are sometimes sent to the art-supply room to retrieve items, but the room is used for other purposes.

"I've been in there to do some reading," said Braidyn.

Thomas explained that a reading volunteer would have accompanied him for the session.

Along the way, Thomas imparts school protocols. In the library, students should be quiet. If students arrive at school hungry, they can always go to the cafeteria for breakfast.

PE coach Nathan Bursk greeted four of the students by name when they toured the gym.

The tour ends at the administration office, where students are shown the adjacent health room and meet the staff. Then, Barry presents a bag of items that includes certificates for free popcorn on Fridays, along with Hawk Dollars that can be entered into a drawing or used for items in the Hawk Store.

The school's PTA funds the Hawk Dollars program. The dollars are awarded for good behavior, while popcorn certificates are given for achieving goals. Otherwise, popcorn costs 25 cents.

Barry stresses three primary rules: Students must be safe, respectful and responsible.

Transition work starts at enrollment. Staffers contact previous schools to get records and reports. The school does its own assessment right away to determine what interventions, if any, might be needed.

"Sometimes teachers will call their previous teacher and ask, 'How can I work with the student to make sure they are successful?' " said Barry. "It's nice just to make that phone call so we can transition a little quicker."

Welcoming procedures also include Barry talking with new students while their parents fill out paperwork, and introducing them to classmates and playground aides. Barry also connects with the student or family after two weeks.

Nearly 25 percent of Orchard Hill's 400 K-5 students have either entered or left the school annually in recent years, said Barry. Overall enrollment is rising. This year ,some students transferred in from the Midwest, but most come from neighboring states or the surrounding area.

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at

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