Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Identity Day Fair - building a school community and a school culture

I am in a K-5 school in the middle of a large amount of rezoning and building.  It would be fair to say that within a 5 block radius there are probably close to 300 new homes completed or in the process of being completed.  Of the 370 students here, if I include kindergarten students, roughly 230 were not here 3 years ago.  One of the challenges that we have faced as a school is the fact that the school has changed drastically in many facets, but size in particular.  Students are coming in at all grade levels and face the task of having to meet and make new friends.  Some students have made a lot of friends really quickly, others are struggling.  It used to be that the kindergarten and grade 1 teachers knew all the kids in the school because they had gone through their classes and they are struggling to know all of the students.  We needed to find a way to help the kids connect with one another, get to know each other and hopefully find ways to connect with one another.  It is also important to create as many opportunities as possible for the kids to find adults to connect with.
When children have attended the same school for their whole K-5 experience, so many teachers know the kids.  They have had them in their classroom, seen them in platooning situations, done buddy classes, collaborative class projects and so on.  As we are all missing that experience we needed to find a way to start that process happening.  Last Spring, as we began planning the upcoming year, we wanted to find a way to help connect the kids to each other as well as with a few significant adults.  As our school is one that is becoming more diverse we thought about doing something around multiculturalism and celebrating that diversity, but we decided that as friendships and getting to know each other was our number one priority, we needed to find a way to celebrate uniqueness and similarities all in one go.  As we continued this conversation I began to think about the Identity Day Fairs that I read about from posts by @gcouros and @ChrisWejr. This fair would accomplish celebrating uniqueness, diversity and similarity all in one go.
We modeled out I-Fair after a Science Fair format that the school had done a number of years ago.  A criteria sheet was sent home 3 weeks in advance with a signed page for parent's to return.  Much of the work was designed to be done in collaboration with family at home, with support given from the classroom.  The criteria was quite wide open, especially the presentation format.  There were poster boards, powerpoint presentations, video montages, pictures, paintings, drawings, instruments, a bearded lizard, lego and all kinds of great ideas.  There were pictures of family cabins, pets in all shapes and sizes, vacations, family, trips, special places and special people.  They brought in mementos of hobbies, family heirlooms and extra-curricular achievements.  It was amazing to see all the unique talents that the students had that we were just learning about.  Three of our grade 5 students chose to show off their art passion by bringing in some of their art work.  I was blown away!  Hockey and soccer medals, medallions and ribbons from dance competitions, rock collections, ski trophies, pictures of them doing some great feat!  It was really cool to have a chance to celebrate each child.
The morning before recess was spent setting everything up and then between recess and lunch the students had a chance to visit every single class and look at the different projects.  For the afternoon, our community was invited to come and be a part of celebrating 370 students unique amazingness.  There was such a warm and positive vibe that came from the school.  All of the students were engaged, the staff was enthoused as well as the parents, grand-parents, siblings, aunts and uncles and everyone else that came out.  It was such a fantastic way to celebrate community.  By bringing in so many parents it was also their first chance to meet all the new parents in the school, meet the new friend that their child has come home talking about and come in and experience a positive school culture building project.
We are not certain that we will be doing an Identity Day Fair every year, but the wheels are definitely turning as to how to do another community project.  This was a huge success!

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