For the last two years we’ve had a back-to-school night a few days before school begins. Students, staff, and parents are all included. There’s a brief assembly with a pep talk from our administrator, then students go to their homerooms. Students find their desks and/or lockers and stock them with their school supplies. I’m not sure what else they do in the elementary rooms, but with my 9th and 10th graders I have my own pep talk and we go over the schedule and maybe do other things if there’s time. A snack follows. It’s been well-attended, and an upbeat, positive way to start the year.
A big part of what’s happening is that we’re doing a lot of stuff that typically happens on the first day of school before school actually starts. Students are oriented in place (room/desk/locker) and time (schedule). It’s made the actual first day go more smoothly.
One thing that didn’t work: The first time we did this we had high school students choose their electives during this event. This proved to be time-consuming and stressful for everyone involved, so we went back to having them choose their electives for the next school year in the spring, which is how it had been done previously.