“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