After spending months learning about how kids at Capital City meet their needs and how different children in the world meet their needs, we turned from the individual to the community. Students quickly realized that no person meets his or her needs alone. Communities meet their needs together.
First, they reflected on the Maasai. Working in small groups, students thought again about how the Maasai meet their needs for food, shelter, clothing, and play. Together, they determined that each person has a role in the community. For example, men herd and care for the cattle, a critical source of food. Women build mud huts for shelter and cook. They began to discuss what might happen to the community if each person didn’t fulfill his or her role, and took the conversation further to wonder why people continue to take on these roles and what makes people in a community feel responsible to each other.
This kicked off our exploration of community gatherings. Community gatherings, rituals, and traditions bring communities together to reinforce community values and help members of a community know and feel responsible to each other. Students brought in examples of community gatherings they participate in like block parties, family reunions, religious celebrations, and family dinners.
They reflected on their feelings at these gathering using words like, “welcome” and “included.” Others shared that gatherings make them feel, “like I’m part of that team,” “like they want me to be there,” “like they care about me,” “special because I’m with my family and I feel like they care about me,” “included and loved because they want to let me join in having fun.” Maggie concluded, “When I am at there, I feel like I am a part of it.”
We all knew the power of feeling like we’re a part of a community during a community gathering. So we began to reflect on the community gatherings in our school community. Was WASM, our weekly all school meeting making us feel, “welcome,” or “included”? In our guts, we knew the answer was no. In small groups, students shared, “It feels crazy.” “I don’t like to do the activity because people will laugh at me.” “I don’t know the songs and everyone is talking around me.”
We wondered: do all the kids in our school feel this way?
“Let’s interview them! We’ve done that before!” Anthony suggested.
“That could take forever!” Anna responded.
And so, the big survey project was born. We developed survey questions, and practiced giving surveys in the classroom. Working with the other second grade class, we went to every classroom to survey students about how they feel about WASM.
We soon realized we were not alone in our feelings. Friends throughout the school shared: “Sometime it feels boring.” “There is now space and everyone pushes.” “I don’t feel safe because most of our friends make fun of people when we’re doing the Gummy Bear dance. And they think we’re baby-ish.”
We created bar graphs to compile the data from the whole school and to draw conclusions.
It became clear that while friends think WASM can be fun, few participate in the community gathering, something we know is important to making people like they are a part of a community.
We visited three other schools to observe their community meetings. We saw students singing and celebrating at Two Rivers Public Charter School. We watched kids reflect and think during a Quaker Meeting at Friends Community School. We watched students clap along with a teacher-led assembly at The Beauvoir School. Students met with school leaders, principals, and the students who planned the community gatherings at the school. We learned so much from these visits. Each school’s gathering was different, but one thing was clear: kids were participating and seemed to be really happy.
“Well, then we have to help fix WASM!” Anthony proclaimed. “We should make a new WASM.”
“But we can’t just take over WASM,” Laila responded.
And so we had to make another plan. “We have to convince people to participate!” Giovanni called out. (Sometimes when we get really excited about a project, we have to forgo hand-raising.)
“We have to tell the adults to fix WASM!” Emerson called back.
Soon, we landed on making signs that show kids how to participate in the different parts of WASM. After analyzing kid- and adult-made signs throughout the building as well as traffic signs, we created a list of effective sign criteria and got to work making our own. “There should be no more than four words,” Anna decided. “There are no decorations or backgrounds.” Phoenix added. “They have to be able to read it in three seconds!” Leo concluded.
After a day of drafting signs, we pulled together a focus group of a Pre-K, a first grade, and a third grade student to give us feedback on the signs. We asked, “Which sign helps you know what to do in WASM?” Kofi, our Pre-K representative shared, “This picture shows everyone looking at the speaker so I know that I need to listen.” Cheyenne, a third grader, said, “This one has so many words, it would be hard for everyone to read. This one tells us exactly what to do, “Listen to the speaker.” They selected the most effective signs and made recommendations elements from different signs to add to a finished product.
There is still more to do. After the break, they will return to the classrooms they surveyed to share the results and make recommendations for participation. Another group of students will begin to prepare a presentation for the committee of teachers and administrators who help plan WASM. Stay tuned for the next steps of the mighty change makers.