It has been well documented throughout educational research that a key component to student success is feeling a sense of belonging at school. This is no surprise, as it aligns with everything we know about Maslow’s hierarchy. As Elizabeth Moje (2000) stated in her study of adolescent’s sense of belonging, “They just want to be a part of the story”.
At Louis Riel, the characters within our “story” are complex and diverse. We have 875 students ranging in age from 4 to 14, enrolled in one of two system wide programs: GATE (Gifted & Talented) and the CBE Science Program. Our students come from all over south Calgary with a vast diversity in learning needs, and for many, the only common denominator is the place they gather to learn. Along with the students who are divided amongst two programs, so are the teachers. Creating a culture of inclusivity among all members is vital. If we are going to create an authentic sense of Community and a place where student success thrives, working to diminish an “us versus them” culture between the two programs had to be a top priority for our Leadership team as we venture into the new school year. We want Louis to feel like home.
We decided to start the year with a project that would bring everyone together, regardless of grade, age and program; it was called, “The Best Part of Me”. Based on the book of student-written poetry, by Wendy Ewald, students in all grades were to identify what they felt was the best part of them. However, unlike the book, we encouraged students to look beyond their physical attributes. Students from kindergarten to junior high were encouraged to think about all the things they loved about themselves and find a way to represent that trait. Teachers across grades and programs worked alongside one another, utilizing the expertise of our CTF teachers to collaborate with students on how they could best represent their self-expression. The results were amazing. On our September Welcome Back Open House, the halls of Louis Riel were filled with stories, poems, drawings, sculptures, paintings, woodworking and songs. Some projects were not complete. It was the process, not the product that meant the most.
Although this project was a great way to start the new school year, we are mindful that this momentum has to continue. Creating opportunities for cross-program interactions has to be intentionally woven into our daily work. This is accomplished through scheduling both GATE and Science students together into French, Band, CTF, PE, Health, field trips, clubs and activities. Additionally, every Friday is #WeAreLouis Day, with staff and students proudly wearing their Louis colours. With over 20 extra curricular clubs offered to students throughout the grades, creating leadership and community building opportunities for student has become a priority.
For teachers, providing opportunity to collaborate and share between programs has also been essential. Under the umbrella of Design Thinking, Professional Learning Communities have been intentionally structured to provide all teachers with opportunities to share student work across grades and programs. This also enables teachers to learn in the company of their peers, sharing expertise and understanding of not only task design and assessment, but their expertise in understanding who are students are as learners.
The work of creating a unified community across a diverse population is not easily accomplished. However, by intentionally providing meaningful opportunities for our students and staff to share in their accomplishments, their struggles, their differences and their similarities, we are taking the first steps in building a community of success for all learners. #WeAreLouis.