Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Guest post: Caring and Community Beyond the Curriculum

“Dragons are yellow and sometimes they’re blue. They’re a part of [our school*] and we are, too. Dragons protect and some of them fly. [Our school] is a community of people who care. [Our school] is a community of people who care.”

Making the words true

The first time I heard my kindergarten daughter sing her school song, I thought, “Well, you can’t just sing a song about caring and community and have it be true.” Now I know that at her school, it is.

My five-year-old attends an ethnically and socioeconomically diverse public school in the San Francisco Unified School District. I knew the 240-student school had been using the Caring School Community® (CSC) program for several years, but while I expected to see the school using the curriculum, I couldn't have known I would find a staff and students who love and care for my daughter the way an extended family would. As Thanksgiving approaches, we are still getting to know the staff and families, but it's easy to see that the CSC program’s principles have become embedded in the school culture.

The community solves a problem

A few weeks into kindergarten, my daughter developed a bladder infection. As it turned out, she was afraid of the school bathrooms! What if a boy came in? What if someone turned off the lights or the stall door wouldn't open? When I told the principal, the after-school director, and my daughter’s teacher about her fears, they responded immediately with support and ideas. Within days:

  • The students discussed bathroom-related problems and solutions in a problem-solving class meeting. (Using class meetings to address problems is part of the CSC program.)
  • The teacher assigned my daughter a recess bathroom buddy.
  • The principal put in a work order to lighten the bathroom door.
  • The after-school director assigned older buddies for after-school bathroom trips.
  • I walked my daughter through what to do in the scenarios she imagined.

Several weeks later, her fear has vanished, and her kindergarten bathroom buddy is yet another one of her many friends!

Why community in school is important

I asked my daughter if the words from her school song are true and why. Her answer spoke volumes:

Yes, because the people at school are really, really nice, especially the principal. The people at school have good hearts, the boys play with the girls, and the older kids like to take care of the younger kids. There are a few people who can be bossy sometimes like So-and-So in Mr. So-and-So’s class.

The school is not perfect and neither are the children. Learning how to handle people who are “bossy sometimes” is part of my daughter’s social development. I expect there will be bumps along the way. But I believe that every child deserves to be a part of a school that has a “community of people who care.”

I believe that if children feel happy, supported, safe, and engaged in school, they will feel comfortable enough to ask questions, explore new ideas, and learn more deeply. Research shows that creating a strong sense of community at school increases students’ academic performance and has a positive influence on their behavior. They are more likely to like school, enjoy challenging learning activities, and help others.

I hope that other schools strive toward making care and community a foundation of their school. Please let us know about how your school brings care and community beyond the curriculum!

Lisa Borah-Geller is a Program Manager at Developmental Studies Center

17 comments:

  1. Nice post. It would be more meaningful if you would state the school. Thanks!

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  2. The school is New Traditions Creative Arts Elementary School.

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  3. FYI: This blog is cross-posted at The DSC Way blog (http://devstu.org/blogs/2010/11/12/caring-and-community-beyond-the-curriculum). There are also a lot of other education-related posts on the DSC Way blog that SF K Files readers might find interesting.

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  4. Is this program used by other SFUSD schools? Which ones?

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  5. Community would be furthered if students were from the same neighborhood. But some people would have us believe that the City's villages have nothing to do with community.

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  6. Caring School Communities is proprietary product of the Developmental Studies Program that our district must purchase. On Your SF Schools you skirted the line between a discussion on intervention and promoting your employer's product. That is OK in my book as long as you make it clear to the reader what your stake is in promoting this discussion as a employee of that organization. I'm sure your intentions are well meaning, but conflicts of interest should be made clear.

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  7. Glen Park ES uses the Caring School Community and I think Jefferson does too. There are others, but that's just off the top of my head! I really like the program.

    TRIBES is one of the other big programs that you'll hear people talk about.

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  8. CIS @ de Avila is a "caring community" school as well. I remember the principal mentioned it in the K intro meeting, and I was wondering about what it means but never got around to asking about it.

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  9. @Don Krause:

    First, my son will be starting kindergarten in San Francisco next year, and I completely agree with you that neighborhood schools build community. You said it well. I am VERY frustrated that the system gives so little weight to that factor in making lottery assignments.

    Separately, I want to say that I very much appreciate your concerns about conflict of interest. I must also say that I know Lisa both personally and collegially and can tell you that her writing and posting of this blog was in no way, shape, or form a product promotion.

    Lisa believes that community-building, social and emotional learning, and equality of educational opportunity for children are of huge benefit to children. It's that that set of beliefs--a deeply personal set of beliefs--that she is "promoting."

    In the case of this blog and other blogs she's written, the fact that the district or any particular school is using the Caring School Community program is incidental. I can guarantee you that she, having had the experience she's had at New Traditions, would have written the exact same post if the school happened to use Tribes.

    As far as formal transparency goes, if you follow Lisa Borah-Geller's posts, you'll find that she has has been completely forthcoming. In fact, she has been troubled by the potential perception of conflict of interest and has been very careful in that regard. Her inaugural guest post on the SF K Files blog, which mentions Caring School Community, not only refers to the Tribes program with equal weight, but also includes this statement. "My non-profit employer developed the Caring School Community program" in the body of the post. Each subsequent post ends with the by line "Lisa Borah-Geller is a Program Manager at Developmental Studies Center."

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and for caring passionately--as Lisa does--about our school system.

    Kenni Smith
    Developmental Studies Center
    http://devstu.org
    http://twitter.com/ThinkingSmith

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  10. Argonne uses Caring School Communities too.

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  11. Hi Kenni,

    I don't doubt the good intentions of anyone involved with the DSC. The issue here is transparency. If you write into a blog and you promote CCC, it stands to reason that you should also disclose that you work for the developer of the program. There are plenty of people who might not have known that before they read these last few posts. There is a big difference if I speak well of it as a user compared to you speaking well of it as someone who gains monetarily from its usage.

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  12. I've been trained in Caring School Communities. Many schools (two where I've taught, others I know of) implement diligently for a year or two before tapering off. Why?
    1. Very time consuming: the lessons take about an hour, and there are MANY lessons to give if you implement the whole program. They take up time that could be used for art / science / etc.
    2. Content is repetitive. Exactly how many times do children need to ask each other what their favorite color is?
    3. There are other ways to build community and teach conflict resolution. I predict you'll find a better social environment at a school that implements project-based, cooperative learning and has many school-wide activities than at a CCC school. Academics will be stronger, too, since at a project-centered school socialization happens in the context of real learning activities rather than one-dimensional team-building exercises.

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  13. I want to thank Don Krause for pointing out the importance of fully disclosing that I work at the Developmental Studies Center (DSC). DSC is a non-profit educational organization that developed the Caring School Community program. When I asked The SF K Files if they would be interested in my post, I had sent them the link to my post through our blog, The DSC Way. I did not expect The SF K Files to copy and paste my post. I thought they would send readers directly to our website which would have made my affiliation more transparent.

    That being said, I feel that my post is really about how New Traditions solved my daughter's problem in a caring yet practical way. I am very interested in learning about how other schools build community and address students' social and emotional development. Please feel free to post that information either here or on the DSC Way blog at http://devstu.org/blogs/2010/11/12/caring-and-community-beyond-the-curriculum.

    On a different note, someone requested a list of schools that use CSC. The depth of implementation may vary from school to school.

    Argonne
    Bryant
    Buena Vista
    Carver
    Chinese Immersion School / De Avila
    Cleveland
    Cobb
    El Dorado
    Feinstein
    Francis Scott Key
    Garfield
    Glenn Park
    Gordon Lau
    Hillcrest
    J. Serra
    Jefferson
    Malcolm X
    New Traditions
    Ortega
    Paul Revere
    Starr King
    Sunnyside
    Sunset
    Sutro
    Ulloa
    Visitation Valley

    I am also hoping to post a list of the schools that use Tribes (http://www.tribes.com/)/ Tribes is another program used in SFUSD to create positive and caring learning environments.

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  14. I want to thank Don Krause for pointing out the importance of full disclosure. I work for the Developmental Studies Center (DSC), a non-profit educational organization in Oakland, CA. DSC is the organization that developed the Caring School Community (CSC) program mentioned in the original post. I had sent the SF K Files the link to this post on DSC's blog, The DSC Way Blog. I expected that they would post the link rather than copy and paste the entire post in which case my affiliation would have been more transparent.

    That being said, I think my post is really about how New Traditions solved a problem in a caring and practical way. I am interested in learning how other schools are creating caring communities and addressing students' social and emotional development. If you would like to share your stories or comments, please post them here or on the DSC Way Blog at:

    http://devstu.org/blogs/2010/11/12/caring-and-community-beyond-the-curriculum

    On a different note, one commenter requested a list of SFUSD schools that use the Caring School Community program. Here is the list. Please note that schools have different levels of implementation.

    Argonne
    Bryant
    Buena Vista
    Carver
    Chinese Immersion School / De Avila
    Cleveland
    Cobb
    El Dorado
    Feinstein
    Francis Scott Key
    Garfield
    Glen Park
    Gordon Lau
    Hillcrest
    J. Serra
    Jefferson
    Malcolm X
    New Traditions
    Ortega
    Paul Revere
    Starr King
    Sunnyside
    Sunset
    Sutro
    Ulloa
    Visitation Valley

    I would also like to post a list of SFUSD schools that use Tribes (http://www.tribes.com/), another program that builds community and addresses children's social and emotional development.

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  15. I've heard the same thing about CSC and Tribes: They work well the first couple of years when enthusiasm for the programs is high... but then they are forgotten. There are MANY schools that "use" CSC and Tribes. You'll see the posters in the halls. But that doesn't mean they are all embracing the program with the same enthusiasm or that there is no bullying or other issues there.

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  16. Below are a list of schools which have been trained within the district to use Tribes (http://www.tribes.com/).

    Elementary Schools:

    Bessie Carmichael
    Charles Drew
    Commodore Sloat
    Grattan
    Guadalupe
    John Muir
    Lafayette
    Longfellow
    Miraloma
    Stevenson


    Middle Schools:

    Aptos
    Bessie Carmichael
    Horace Mann
    International Studies Academy (6-8)
    Giannini
    Visitacion Valley

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  17. Hello, everyone. My name is Ginger Cook and I work at DSC with Caring School Community. I appreciate all of the conversation here around implementation of CSC in SFUSD and just wanted to respond to one set of comments from November 19th.

    * As for the amount of time CSC lessons take: Pacing is very important to keeping everyone's attention and engagement. Class meetings generally take 20-30 minutes, max. End-of-the-day check-ins should be no more than 5 or 10 minutes. While there are a number of class meetings included in the program, after the first 8 weeks, teachers have flexibility to choose meetings based on real needs so that the meetings stay authentic and responsive. Have a substitute teacher coming in? Use the decision-making class meeting for students to help plan how to make that experience go well. Find that multiple students are being teased? Hold a class meeting.

    Cross-age Buddies: might take a little longer but many schools only have buddies meet one or two times a month. While there are 40 activities from which they might choose, they are not expected to do all of them and many actually provide lesson plans to integrate art, science, social studies and other content areas.

    * Content is authentic: - I'm not sure what one comment was about in terms of favorite color, but I don't remember that being a part of any lesson. If used, it would only be once in an entire year.

    * Importance of community-building and engagement being integrated throughout the day: We couldn't agree more that cooperative learning and engagement should be part of the entire day. We work hard to help transfer these facilitation techniques and general ways of being beyond CSC "time." Project-based learning works well with CSC. CSC helps intentionally build an environment where students know how to work well together and embody respect, responsibility, empathy, and more.

    Thanks again to everyone participating in this vibrant on-line community!

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