From Our Executive Director, Jacqueline Hicks’ article in our October 2016 Newsletter:
Have you ever been that kid in school who had no one to sit with at lunch time?
I have! For a short period, which seemed like an eternity, during one semester in Junior High school I felt completely alone, without friends. I had no one to talk to, or to eat lunch with, or walk to class with. I remember how lonely I felt. I was so embarrassed and confused; I couldn’t talk to my parents or teachers about it. I was very unhappy and I hated going to school. My experience that semester stays with me and supports my belief that academic success is influenced by feeling included in the learning communities, the classrooms, and the school.
I always made sure in my charter school, Cortez Hill Academy, that each new student had someone to be with on their first day and beyond, until they made their own connections and felt included. Our school was small and our students felt responsible for including everyone. That didn’t mean that everyone always got along or that everyone liked everyone else, but it did mean that everyone was accepted and considered part of our “family.”
I don’t need research to convince me that belonging is important to learning and happiness in school, although there is plenty of research to support that people need to belong. Belonging is third on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and as such, important to our growth and the development of our potential. For most students, the need to belong gets taken care of in many ways. Students belong to cliques, they join clubs, participate on sports teams, join groups outside of school, and of course belong to their family. What if students felt a responsibility for, or a commitment to, the success of each of their classmates? Imagine a classroom where students experience a real connection to each student, as well as to their teacher.
At Cortez Hill Academy we created a community of learners who felt commitment and support for each other’s success, and took responsibility for it in spontaneous and innovative ways. It became manifest through Circle Time discussions (see article in our last newsletter); through our Person Centered Approach; and through our high standards expressed as Expected Schoolwide Learning Results (ESLRs): Academic Mastery, Artistic Expression, Leadership and Personal Responsibility, Healthy Lifestyle, Lifelong Learning, and World Citizenship.
Although the smallness of our school contributed to our success in creating our Inclusive Learning Community, I believe any classroom can be transformed into a place where students feel they belong, through dedication to Circle Time and the elements of a Person Centered Approach. Let’s try to eliminate as much as possible that lonely child feeling left out and unwanted.