On this shrunken globe, men can no longer live as strangers. ~Adlai E. Stevenson
I grew up in a very small town in central Kansas. The majority of students in my kindergarten class, were also in my graduating class (of 23). My elementary, middle and high school all shared the same name–St. John. By the time we were in high school, we had been instilled with a great sense of pride in our school, and our community. We felt connected to staff and peers–if for no other reason than proximity and the amount of time we spent together.
This was much different than my experiences as an educator in urban schools–all with enrollment sizes approaching the population of the town of St. John. These schools all have multiple feeder elementary schools and diverse student populations–ethnically and economically. A sense of community was not inevitable in these schools and it was/is a challenge to establish. Community helps students feel connected, it gives them additional purpose for attending school and it can provide a sense of empowerment (the feeling that they make a difference).
At my current school, we have an assembly at the end of the quarter to celebrate successes and to help in the process of building a tight knit school community. Today was our holiday assembly, where we played games, engaged in silliness (like decorating teachers to resemble candy canes) and built a Christmas Tree of canned goods (each student brought a can to the assembly). It is always way too much work, way too chaotic and way too loud…but totally worth it. Kids leave the assembly smiling, visiting with teachers and saying things like “Happy Holidays, Mr. Delp,”
It takes a lot more than an assembly to build a sense of community, but for me, today was a reminder of why it is so important to make an effort to engage students in activities that help them make connections. Our students need a place to belong and they need to believe that school can serve as a support system for their social, educational and emotional needs.
We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men. ~Herman Melville