A Sense of Belonging
When a visitor walks into a classroom at Sand Hill School, they regularly notice a meaningful sense of belonging amongst our students.
This connection is a very important part of our culture. In fact, 95% of parents believe their children have a sense of belonging at Sand Hill. This is significant because research shows students who believe they are in the right school achieve higher academic outcomes because they feel relaxed, receptive and motivated.
How do we accomplish this sense of belonging at Sand Hill? During the first several months of school, our staff focuses on getting to know our students and helping them make connections. There’s a lot of energy that goes into the smiling faces, positive spirit and peer support that is seen around campus. Our teachers are very strategic about teaming together to achieve such schoolwide unity.
Said Room 1 teacher Ms. Rourke,”We build relationships and teamwork at the beginning of the year. We get to know each student individually. It’s neat to learn what motivates each child and watch them light up as they share with one another.”
This focus is also one of the cornerstones of our Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum at Sand Hill. Ms. Ewert, also from Room 1, explains, “The focus of the first unit of our SEL program is to build community and connections. We use guided conversations to learn about our similarities and celebrate our uniqueness. And we get student buy-in through high interest games and activities.”
But the sense of connection extends beyond the SEL curriculum. Lisa Parnello, Sand Hill’s Literacy Specialist, adds, “Our students also build connections with each other through their shared experiences with learning differences. They form a bond with one another because they know other kids in the school have similar learning styles.”
This idea transcends our teaching practices and leads to common outcomes. For example, middle school social studies teacher John Montgomery builds a sense of belonging through circle-shares, historic simulations and group work.
Learning to Love Learning
Because they’re used to such interpersonal strategies, students are more likely to take educational risks and learn to love learning. For example, students in the middle school writers’ workshop recently produced several shared-writing pieces that were both engaging and informative. Such experiences help students create a bond with their peers while honing their academic skills. Writing teacher Angelina DeCaro explained, “We do a lot to make individual connections a reality. We go out of our way to ask students about their strengths and interests. And truthfully, we’re all kids at heart so having fun while learning is really important to our culture.”
Building Community at Sand Hill
In sum, our students feel a sense of belonging at Sand Hill for many reasons.
- We get to know our children. We greet students at the beginning of the day and learn their names and nicknames. We also get to know their interests, hobbies and strengths.
- We build trust through formal and informal check-ins. We show interest and empathy for each student’s unique situation.
- We build relationships that support deeper connections and lifelong friendships.
- We provide immediate rewards that are both extrinsic and intrinsic.
- We celebrate student choice, student autonomy and self-advocacy.
- SEL skills are integrated into every academic lesson. We also practice SEL skills in real-time situations.
- We share a culture of kindness. We continuously reinforce the expectations of, “Be Kind. Be Respectful. Be Responsible.”
- We have fun as a part of a larger community.