Creating a Sense of Belonging and Community
Posted 04/18/2017 09:44AM

If I had to distill the Country Day experience into a single word, I'd choose community. It's one of those rare institutions that finds its strength in both the things that bind us all together (mission, education, love of kids) and also in all the things that make each child and each family unique. That's why Country Day had the first director of diversity of planning and the first international studies program, and that's why almost every child to walk in the door says, as a JKer did this year, "I like EVERYBODY here, and I think they all like me too."

How and why do we focus so much time and energy on intentionally building a strong and diverse community and curriculum? The answer is pretty simple for a school—so all our kids can thrive academically and socially and be prepared to lead, serve, and change their worlds for the better! 

This year, we've worked hard to deepen our work in a few key areas:

  • Creating a sense of belonging for all kids and families: This has always been a real strength of Country Day, but we focus on it each year because without that foundation, learning, and growth doesn't happen! This year, our teachers deepened their commitment to this work through a weeklong intensive study of Responsive Classroom, and they implemented a range of techniques and strategies to help them build community and camaraderie in their classrooms. One teacher noted that the intentional use of Morning Meetings to start each day was "the single most transformative thing" she had ever done as a teacher "because of its power to build connections with and between students."
  • Providing "windows and mirrors" for every child: I love this metaphor for looking at curriculum. We believe that in school every child should be able to "explore the unfamiliar" AND also see "their own lived experiences validated and valued." In other words, the curriculum should provide each student with the opportunity to see mirrors of their own reality, as well as "windows into the experience of others." Our teachers have taken this idea and run with it, looking at their classroom books, artwork, music, games, etc. with this idea in mind. The JK/K teams, for example, embraced a new social emotional curriculum called AMAZE that uses literature, discussions, and play to explore human difference and reduce bias. It covers a range of topics (from family structure, adoption, and religion to race/ethnicity, class, and disability) in developmentally appropriate ways.
  • Teaching kids to think critically and take on different perspectives: One of my favorite Ted Talks of all time is The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Adichie. In it, she says, "In social studies, students need access to multiple texts so they have more than a single story about an event. The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story." I have to say (with a tinge of embarrassment) that I did not learn to think critically about history/social studies until college. Up through high school, I viewed history as a "set narrative," not bothering to think how different it would look and sound told from a different perspective or with a different starting/ending point. We want our students to be more critical in their intake of information, asking questions like: Whose voice is represented here? Whose voice is missing? How might they understand this story differently than this author? This year, our 4th graders showcased this kind of thinking in their simulation of the Second Continental Congress, in which some took on the perspective of the Patriots, while other passionately argued as Loyalists. The end result—really good, rigorous academic thinking and a deeper understanding of the issues on all sides.
  • Inspiring the heart! Good education inspires the mind and great education inspires the heart. Country Day fully embraced its heart this year, as it celebrated its 75 years through a renewed commitment to lead and to serve in our community. It was so much fun to be part of that and to watch the way the little ones responded with such care, compassion, and energy. Service learning has always been a big part of the Lower School experience, but it has been extra fun this year to watch teachers, families, and students find new ways to deepen that commitment—in and out of school.

Adele Paynter
Head of Lower School 

Charlotte Country Day School
1440 Carmel Rd Road, Charlotte,
NC North Carolina 28226
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