Face Coverings. Airplane Arms. Classroom Cohorts. These are just a few of the new phrases that have been introduced into our vocabulary as we begin this unique school year. While the start of school may look different, many things remain just the same.
The unveiling of the Lower School theme is always a special day that students, families and faculty look forward to on the first day of Morning Meeting each August. A yearly tradition that started over a decade ago, past themes include Imagine and Love your Neighbor.
When choosing this year’s theme, Lower School Head, Beth Gardner, drew on her own experiences of being new to the Episcopal community. She wanted to create a space where each member of the Lower School feels welcome, valued and loved, which led to selecting this year’s theme: “Belonging.”
Mrs. Gardner, along with the religion and counseling teams, brainstormed ways to bring this year’s theme of belonging into the classrooms this year. “This theme works for students, parents, teachers, faculty and staff, which is what we love about it,” explains Religion teacher, Laura Portwood. The team settled on three points to focus on to kick off the year.
You Belong Here
Every student has the basic right to feel like they belong. A sense of belonging is one of our basic needs at birth. Babies form an attachment to family members. As children grow up and start school, they need to feel that same sense of belonging in the classroom with their teachers and classmates. Author Brene Brown writes, ”Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.” Students need to feel accepted in order to take risks that will help them learn and grow.
You are You-nique
It is important for students to recognize and accept their differences. Our differences make our community stronger. Teaching children to recognize their strengths adds to their sense of belonging to the community. Religion teachers Jenny Koenig and Laura Portwood have selected Bible verses for students to study in Morning Meeting that support this message. The most recent scripture chosen was from 1 Corinthians 12:12, 14-20 (NIV):
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
Acknowledging our differences, recognizing our strengths and supporting those who are different from us will build a stronger sense of belonging in our community this year.
How to Help Others Belong
We are excited to welcome 168 new students to Episcopal this year. Joining a community can be a new and lonely experience, but the Lower School is already working to make these students and families feel a sense of belonging. Lower School teachers sent out hand-written postcards to each new student this summer. Students were thrilled to receive this personal touch from their teacher and it made starting school a little easier to know that teachers were excited to see them.
Parents’ Guild volunteers Stacy Dampf and Nicole Chauvin made phone calls to all of our new Lower School families this summer. “I am happy that we were able to make a personal connection for these new families. I was also glad to be able to tell my own children who the new kids on the playground would be,” says Dampf.
She continues, “ As a child, my family moved several times and my brother and I were often the 'new kids'. I know from experience that being the new kid isn't easy. I hope that by making my own children aware of which new students may have been looking for a friend to play with on the playground or may have been in need of a friendly smile that some of our new students had an easier transition to the Episcopal community.”
As we embrace this new theme of belonging, we hope that each student, family member and our entire Lower School community will recognize their unique talents and learn to value the importance that their contributions bring to our school. As we go through this year, we will continue to uncover and highlight these special gifts to help each individual find a place of belonging at Episcopal.
Julie Mendes, a 2001 graduate of Episcopal, received both her undergraduate degree and MEd in elementary education at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. She taught in Texas public schools and at a bilingual school in Gracias, Honduras before returning to teach PreK-4 at her alma mater in 2012. After 14 years in the classroom, she is excited to serve our youngest Knights in a new role as the Director of Early Childhood Programs. Julie resides in Madisonville with her husband, Scott, and bonus son, Owen