Academic journal article School Community Journal

Snapshot of a Community of Caring Elementary School

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Snapshot of a Community of Caring Elementary School

Article excerpt

Abstract

Research has found that students' experience of school as community is causally linked to student concern for others, democratic values, skill and desire to resolve conflicts fairly, altruistic behavior, positive interpersonal behavior, and achievement motivation (Battistich, 2001; Schaps & Lewis, 1999).

Brewer, Maine elementary schools have adopted Community of Caring, a project of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation. Community of Caring, begun as a program to decrease teen pregnancy, now has the broader purpose of promoting positive development and good decision making among children and youth through teaching and modeling the values of respect, trust, caring, responsibility, and family. Community of Caring is perceived by Brewer elementary school staff to be a positive, community-building project. However, we wanted to go beyond positive perceptions to study the Community of Caring project.

This paper describes a study involving elementary students, teachers, and staff in one Brewer elementary school. The purpose was to see whether benefits attributed to sense of community and belonging were present, and if so what role, if any, Community of Caring played in creating such an environment.

Students reported a very high sense of belonging. Both students and staff credited Community of Caring for the safe, respectful school environment. In addition, both identified identical academic benefits as a result of Community of Caring.

Introduction

For years I have regularly driven by one of the elementary schools in Brewer, Maine, a small city close to the University of Maine, and have often noticed a huge banner hanging across the front of the State Street School. "WE ARE A COMMUNITY OF CARING," it proclaims. Since teacher caring and building school communities have been foci of my work for many years, I was very interested in Community of Caring. Three years ago I began working in the city's elementary schools as part of a professional development partnership between the schools and the university. I co-teach an on-site curriculum inquiry class for teachers and administrators, and supervise graduate level student teachers in the K-8 Brewer Schools. That work has allowed me to learn what Community of Caring schools are, at least in the city of Brewer, Maine. This paper describes a study of Community of Caring in one of the Brewer elementary schools, carried out in the spring of 2001.

Context

Community of Caring was founded in 1986 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver as a project of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation. Originally a program to decrease teen pregnancy, it now has the much broader purpose of promoting positive development and good decision making among children and youth through teaching and modeling the values of respect, trust, caring, responsibility, and family. In teaching and modeling the stated values, the aim is for classrooms and schools to become communities where students and staff are respected and valued and where children feel safe to learn. Community of Caring does not have a specific set of program components but is more a philosophy of educating centered on its five values. However, trainers from Community of Caring school sites travel to new or continuing Community of Caring sites to provide, through presentation, activities, and discussion, a rationale for the focus on the five values and ideas of ways to infuse the values into the curriculum and school activities. In Brewer K-8 schools, the core values are taught as part of the classroom and school rules and routines as well as infused mainly in the study of literature and social studies. In addition to teachers and students, bus drivers, secretaries, and other school personnel, as well as recreation department employees and parents, have all been introduced to the values and purposes of Community of Caring. Brewer received initial training in Community of Caring in 1994 and the most recent follow-up training was in the early spring of 2001 and was required of all new employees. …

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