Community is Everything
You will hear our teachers, staff and students talk a lot about community. We have learning communities, community time and often discuss how we can impact our community through our big questions about the world. Why are we so focused on community?
The short answer is, community is everything.
Created for Community
You see, God created each of us to desire community and be fulfilled through relationships with others. 1 Corinthians 12 speaks about how we are each a part of the body, uniquely created to do a specific job but none of us are able to fully function without the other parts of the body. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us that two are better than one and that we are supposed to help each other through life’s ups and downs. Hebrews 10:24 says, “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”
Community is ingrained in our DNA by the Creator. We were not designed to exist in isolation and our students don’t learn in isolation either.
We purposefully and intentionally create opportunities for our students to cultivate meaningful community here at GCA and also challenge them to consider how they might impact the larger community outside of our walls through their work.
What is a Learning Community?
Learning Communities enhance each child’s educational experience through the opportunity to work with a larger group of students, build relationships with their peers and develop soft skills like collaboration, communication and resilience. The learning communities break the school into smaller groups of students: Early Childhood, Pre-Kindergarten through 1st Grade, 2nd Grade through 5th Grade and 6th through 8th Grade.
Our entire school is also a Learning Community and we continually try to develop a sense of belonging and community from infants through 8th Grade.
Why do we have Learning Communities?
Learning Communities can catapult student achievement by giving students new opportunities to learn from others, practice empathy and understand the needs of other people as well as step into leadership roles.
At GCA, we are committed to ensuring that our approach to learning is driven by research. Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child has explored the importance of creating learning communities. Their center says, “effective [learning] communities are both aspirational and practical. They connect people, organizations, and systems that are eager to learn and work across boundaries, all the while holding members accountable to a common agenda, metrics, and outcomes. These communities enable participants to share results and learn from each other, thereby improving their ability to achieve rapid yet significant progress.”
Models in Innovative Education
We have also learned from partners in the innovation school movement that fostering community is important for student growth and development. Last year, Mrs. Mary White and Mrs. Liz Phillps who both teach 3rd and 4th grade blended classes at GCA visited two innovation schools and returned to share their experiences with our staff.
“When we visited Ohana Institute in Rosemary Beach, Florida, I was inspired by their “family time,” recalled Mrs. Mary White. “Ohana literally means ‘family’ and they have woven it into the fabric of everything they do. Students take ownership for their learning environment like it is their home - students even had daily chores and came to school a week early to prepare their rooms and supplies for the year.”
Mrs. Liz Phillips shared about her experience at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School’s Community Time. “The students all rallied together and you could tell that they had relationships across grades and ages. It’s the value of a small school. We have the opportunity to build relationships with our students and have fun together. Because we are smaller, we actually can know, celebrate and encourage everyone in our community.”
How do we Build Community at GCA?
Building community is not a one-step process, it is built upon a commitment to value each other. Our students are becoming more aware of the people around them and are internalizing why we care about each other. For example, being quiet in the hallways takes on a whole new meaning when the preschoolers who you taught a dance in chapel last week are napping! Woven into each of these experiences are opportunities for leadership, empathy and awareness of others.
Every day at noon, all second through eighth graders come together for ten minutes for what we call, “Community Time.” Our staff take turns leading this time to do a variety of things including make announcements, pray, play an ice breaker game or celebrate the achievements and progress being made by students in the community. This is an informal time but even in a quick 10 minute meeting students cross grade boundaries, consider how their actions impact their peers and teachers and are reminded of our shared goals.
2. Community Lunch
This year we have redesigned lunch time so that our learning communities can eat and play together at recess. We all build relationships around the table. Our teachers join our students for lunch several days a week as well. By sitting and eating with our students teachers are saying, “I’m part of your community and I value you as an individual.” We believe that students are powerful people and we have a lot to learn from them. It’s important that students feel a deep sense of belonging and significance within our community so that they feel confident to share their questions, struggles and victories.
3. Shared Experiences
Inside jokes, triumphs, failures, epiphanies - these are just a few memories our students share with one another during shared experiences like chapel, student exhibitions and outdoor education day. These moments bind students and teachers together and create opportunities for students to teach each other, learn from one another and spur each other on like Hebrews 10:24 says.
4. Shared Language
If you haven’t had the chance - read my blog on why we have shared language, goals, expectations and a theme for the year. When we are all on the same page and understand each other, we can be even more impactful with our encouragement and our celebrations of each student’s progress.
Monday through Thursday our students wear uniforms as a visual representation of our community. Just like athletes, a uniform makes it easy to see that we are on the same team! And of course, every good thing needs balance so on Friday we enjoy dress down day and encourage students to express their uniqueness.
Community is Everything
Our learning environment is entirely focused on developing students to be world changing disciples of Christ. Following Jesus and changing the world can’t be done alone. It is our hope that our students learn how to be productive and engaged members of their community so that they are prepared to make their mark in the world with the help and support of other members of the body.