As a beginning principal at Reno School, I learned the value and power in the feeling of “community.” At that time, area students attended grades K-3 at the small school in Reno and then transitioned to Phillips School for grades 4- 6. Parents and community members talked about “our school,” “our teachers,” and “our students.” This family-like feeling became a source of comfort, security and pride for me and I saw the benefits for everyone in the school community.
There have been many changes since my first years as a principal: changes in family structure, the economy, school attendance areas, curriculum, technology, student outcomes and teacher accountability. The one constant is the need to belong and to know that someone cares about you and recognizes your efforts. It’s not by accident that questions on the Marietta City Schools’ student, staff, and parent surveys address these very needs as a way of determining the health and strength of our schools.
So, how do we create that community feeling, that sense of belonging? Each school has its own unique ways. Here are a few that we enjoy at Harmar School.
The Harmar School Postal Program was begun over 20 years ago by Jerrie Berentz, the elementary guidance counselor, with materials provided by the Marietta Post Office. The purpose of the program is to encourage positive letter writing. Most of the letters are written by staff and students, but parents are encouraged to participate too. Each September, interested fourth and fifth graders complete job applications, including references, to apply for the postal jobs. A postal directory is made with each school floor receiving a street name that reflects the school theme for that year. This year the theme animal is a frog, so the streets are Lily Pad Lane, Bullfrog Boulevard and Polliwog Way. At the September Postal Assembly, fourth graders demonstrated how to address an envelope and the first and second semester postal workers were introduced and took the oath of office.
Training and supervision of the postal workers is provided by fourth grade teachers: Sarah Hess, Ashley Bonnette and Katelyn Eckrote, and fifth grade teachers: Page Gustin, Christopher VanReeth and Lindsey West. Student postal workers give most of a noon recess to do their work. With the support of the entire staff, the school postal program continues to promote that feeling of community.
A school theme, based on an animal, is identified each year and provides a fun way to connect students in all the grades. This year the frog is reminding us all to “Hop to It,” good advice for the procrastinator or the hesitant learner. We are grateful to volunteer Jaye Warman for promoting reading with her creative artwork based on the animal theme. Teachers incorporate the theme animal in a variety of ways. Marietta College Student Intern, Kali Hastings, set up an aquarium with frog eggs for the second graders to have a birds-eye view of the metamorphosis. Ms. Carr’s students will not only be observing and journaling, they will also be inviting others to their classroom to share the experience.
Traditions are important! They help make connections over time. During the school year, the wall outside the school office fills with pictures and news of the successes of current and former Harmar students. Also in the main hallway is a row of pictures of students who have achieved a designated level in the fitness challenge. P.E. teacher Amber Carter adds a star each year that the student achieves the level. Pictures remain in place until the student leaves fifth grade. In another hallway, art teacher Jessica Swart has begun a similar recognition for outstanding achievement in art. A favorite tradition occurs on the last day of school at dismissal. K-4 students and staff members stand in two lines to form a tunnel across the playground to clap and wish good luck to the fifth graders. Parents now come to watch and “make a memory.”
Another tradition is the annual Veteran’s Day Assembly. From the presentation of the flags to the tolling of the bell and balloon release, students honor our veteran guests with songs, readings and art. This year 29 veterans, friends and relatives of Harmar students and staff, attended. Veterans expressed their gratitude for being remembered and honored. For students, the lesson is that veterans are people we know and love.
Finally, two changes are making a significant difference! We’re using our Title I and intervention teachers as co-teachers in the regular classrooms. Marietta College interns are assigned to a classroom one day a week first semester, every day second semester. Co-teaching is creating a community of learners in classrooms, improving instruction and learning. It is a win-win!