The Mission of Clark Street Community School is to democratically cultivate a community of engaged learners, serve as a resource for educators, and a catalyst for reform in education throughout our region and our nation.
This week, as I continue to explore our mission statement and what it means to the work we do at CSCS, I turn to “community, “ which is at the heart of so much of what we do at CSCS. Each day, and with each interaction, we work to create a community which welcomes every individual and creates a safe environment for everyone to take on the challenges needed in order to be deeply engaged in learning. While we have established different goals each year in order to focus on different aspects of our academic program, creating and maintaining a school climate and culture which is supportive of deeply engaged learning for all has been a goal each and every year. This is certainly not because this is an area of weakness for us….students, their families, and staff consistently report that they feel supported and safe in our school. Rather, the continued focus on this area is reflective of how critical we believe it is to the overall learning experience.
On a day to day basis, community is emphasized in a lot of different ways. Each day starts with advisory, a group of up to 15 students and a staff member who develop deep, supportive relationships that span years and lots of memories and growth experiences. Starting our day honoring the importance of connection is very intentional and an important part of what makes CSCS so special. In seminars and workshops, it is not uncommon for the learning experience to start with a circle, which creates another opportunity for everyone in the room to connect. Throughout the day, thousands of greetings and intentional connections can be observed in nearly every context. The Carnegie Foundation recently released a study on student motivation and found that having a sense of belonging was a significant positive contributor to a student’s level of motivation in school. While we certainly hope that everyone at CSCS feels good about being in our school, it is because we truly believe being connected to something greater than yourself helps humans achieve much more and learn much more that we place such an emphasis on community.
At the heart of our commitment to community are two things. First, our community agreements:
Create a safe learning environment
Be an active community member
These agreements, created in our first year by students, keep our expectations consistent and clearly understandable to all. The second key factor is our commitment to restorative practices. Simply put, the philosophy of restorative practices honors that in a community, there will be conflict and there will be times when harm is done. When this happens, we do not seek to assign blame and dole out punishment, rather we seek to develop a deep understanding of the harm done and to give the person who caused the harm the opportunity to repair the harm and rejoin the community as a fully participating member.
One of the lessons we have learned over the first few years at CSCS is that this sense of community is not something that is consistent with the experience some of us have had in schools. Because it is new, it at times takes people some time to accept that they are a part of a community. We have worked hard to stay consistent in our practices and to always continue to welcome individuals into our community. When an individual is struggling to meet our community agreements, we first seek to find ways to deepen the individual’s connection to the community, because we know that changing patterns of behavior that have served you well in other contexts takes time, and having a community support you in making these changes greatly increases the likelihood of success.
I would be remiss if I did not highlight the fact that our definition of community is a very broad one that seeks to include anyone who is connected to CSCS in any way. We have been blessed in ways we could have only dreamed of five years ago by community partners, families, and others who have given so generously of their time, talents and resources. Our students have benefitted in so many ways because of the skills and hard work of these people. In return, we strive to create opportunities for our students to play active service roles in our community and our world as well. Here again, a connection to a broader community and needs and opportunities beyond their own consistently deepens the learning opportunities for our students.
Clark Street Community School truly is deeply rooted in community….both within and beyond our walls. We strive to continue to expand this community and firmly believe that each individual brings great value to our community and should be honored for that value. If you are already a part of our community, thank you for all you bring! If you are not yet a part of our community, we look forward to learning with you soon!