Each school year starts out with so much anticipation, anxiety, wonder, excitement and a sense that anything is possible. One of the amazing things about Opal is that many of the traditional fears that students carry with them from one year to the next are tempered by the knowledge that there is a community that they know, provided from day one. This group of third and fourth graders haven't been together as a group for several years, but there is definitely a sense of familiarity that has supported them this past week.
At the same time there are so many new things to discover and explore. A new classroom (which is magnificently spacious, bright and comfortable), a new anchor teacher, new expectations and new questions to find answers to.
From day one we jumped right into building a sense of community through real world challenges. We started out asking the kids to map out their summers, thinking of ways to share the stories of the last few months. The physical maps led to story writing. In addition the kids made heart maps to explore the places, people, ideas, experiences and objects that they hold dear (or that have touched their hearts in some way). These maps will be the seeds future stories. We want to explore the ideas, uses and potentials of maps (literally and figuratively) as tools to view and uncover the world. Mapping will be something that we build upon throughout the year. It will be a language that we can access for a variety of uses and situations.
Along with the mapping, we began a project that centered around making hollow blocks for the students in the Pre-K, Early Kindergarten, Opal 1 and Opal 2. These four classes need to share a limited supply of these great building materials which created a perfect opportunity for Opal 3 students to dive headfirst into a community oriented project. This project is a real world way to explore building, design, math, organization, community building, research, and writing. In the first week we brainstormed questions, made observations, recorded our discoveries and shared our findings.
Jumping into this work early, from the very first days, sets the stage and context for a year of exploration. Giving the kids the opportunity to ask important questions, use a variety of materials, have real world problems to solve, and demonstrate a variety of skills and levels of understanding is a rich way to build and support community. The building of a safe, caring and supportive community cannot be separated from the work that we do. When kids find their days filled with ideas, conversations and experiences that matter, that have an impact on the world, and which challenge them to fully realize their strengths and force them to work on the places where they struggle, they automatically co-create communities that mater too. It has been a good beginning.