Friday, April 18, 2014

When School Feels Like Family

Today was one of those memorable, affirming days at school. Students who are passing all classes with C's or higher assembled in our multi-purpose room (the gym) for our third- quarter recognition rally. 

The event began with the ubiquitous acknowledgement of all nine "Houses" and opening cheers as House captains marched in with each House's "family crest" on a banner.

Mr. Brame, Theater/Debate/Creative Writing teacher and permanent Master of Ceremonies (not to mention District Teacher of the Year 2012-13), welcomed everyone to our Third Quarter Renaissance Rally and delivered the mic to members of our Equity Committee. 

This month is Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The Equity Committee introduced a visitor from Japan who educated us all on what it is like to live and go to school in her country. Our students were fascinated, and they rewarded "Ms. Erica" with an enthusiastic round of applause and an Arrowhead t-shirt.

Next, a half dozen beautiful, somewhat shy, yet brave, Burmese students performed a traditional dance wearing gorgeous traditional clothing. They also dressed two of their teachers in traditional garb and styled their hair according to Burmese culture. The girls' peers watched raptly and cheered their performance enthusiastically. One of the girls then performed a popular Burmese song in her native language and further wowed the crowd.

The teacher of our Life Skills class (functional special education program) presented a slide show of all the interaction she had filmed between regular education students who participated as "buddies" to her students in our new "Friendship Club." They obviously had a ton of fun and enjoyed getting to know one another. It was a moving presentation, made more special by how much the student body enjoyed and appreciated it.

The Pep Club demonstrated the newest dance, the Nelly, and then invited audience members to join them on the floor for another run-through of the dance. A big group of kids and adults tried out the dance all together.

A group of boys performed our newly minted "Arrowhead Rap" which was written and originally performed by our campus officer. Many of our students have learned every word over this school year, and we all love it!

Coaches introduced the Spring sports teams. Teachers read off lists of students who earned each achievement level: Bronze (2.0 to 2.9 GPA), Silver (3.0 to 3.5 GPA), Gold (3.6 to 3.9 GPA) and Platinum (4.0+ GPA). Students stood when their names were read, and classmates cheered. 

A team from each House competed in elimination rounds. In the first round, groups of students got 60 seconds to list all the words they could find among the letters of one of three catch-phrases from our building-wide theme:  
  • All Fired Up!
  • Fourth-Quarter Living!
  • Reading, Writing, and Reasoning
The winners of the three heats then competed in the final round, a race in which House members stacked six snack cakes on the forehead of one member, who had to balance the cakes for three seconds. Then, the whole team had to wrap a rope around all four members, tuck an orange under each of their chins, and cross the finish line at half-court.

Finally, I announced the MVPs from each House for third quarter. I reminded everyone about the year-long competition and announced the rankings. (MVPs get locker tags and treats. So do House Captains.)

Our Renaissance committee (the group of staff members that creates each recognition rally) invited the fifth-graders, with their teachers, from each of our three feeder schools to come experience a rally and tour the school. They had a blast. Imagine receiving welcoming cheers from older middle schoolers just before you transition to the big time!

I am SO PROUD of how my teachers and staff work together on so many projects throughout the school year to make sure our kids have fun, make a contribution, receive recognition, and have opportunities to shine. No wonder our young people respond so well to our programs. I love to see their joy in performing or trying something new, their efforts to excel in schoolwork and extra-curricular activities, and especially their acceptance of and kindness toward one another. 

I love how the young people and the adults in our building do not exhibit or experience an "us-vs.-them" relationship but rather a sense of family.

Working hard to make sure every student feels a sense of belonging in our school is a major priority for us. Deliberately building inclusion and orchestrating fun is critical to create the climate we want. All discipline is punitive if school personnel do not balance rules and consequences with the message that we value and enjoy one another, our shared students, and our students' families.

Thank you, Mrs. Rosie Rodriguez, 

for many of the photos in this post.

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