John Glenn Middle School math teacher Lindsey Goodhue left a blank index card on each student’s desk. “I like music and jokes,” she explained. “Write your favorite song or a joke you would like to share on the note card. A joke lightens the mood – it helps those who don’t like math.”
It wasn’t a typical welcome, but rather an opening delivered all morning as part of the middle school’s first community day.
On the morning before Thanksgiving, groups of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders moved from room to room in 15-minute increments. They found students, staff, and community members presenting “elements of their culture,” or activities designed “to help our community learn more about each other while having fun.”
Community Day was a success, said Principal Jonathan Hartunian, “due to the efforts of staff and students. It was a special day and I was proud to be part of something so meaningful.” Hartunian presided at a session teaching about Armenian Easter.
“We expect to continue this tradition of community and inclusivity and hope this first event created momentum for more community participation,” he said.
Eight staff members and four students collaborated on a planning committee to set up the format and details of community day.
As the half-day of school began, each student received a personalized schedule sheet that also announced the purposes of community day, including “to foster better understanding of our differences and similarities” and “to broaden our knowledge of various cultures in the world.”
Between 8:30 and 10:50 a.m., students changed to new rooms and experiences, with new cohorts, in 15-minute intervals.
Community volunteers shared and sometimes demonstrated cultural highlights from Guatemala, Nepal, Armenia, Portugal, China, India, Korea, and Greece. Some examples:
Three students proficient in traditional Chinese instruments explained their development and demonstrated their sound for each group that passed through. They also demonstrated how traditional Chinese music “replicates sounds of nature.”
Describing a custom from India, a JGMS staff member explained the “ritual of wearing the thread” and related its details to other cultures’ coming-of-age ceremonies. She connected the symbolic value to the centrality of education.
Students who presented a slide presentation on Armenian landmarks and a musical demonstration also referenced the genocide, “the systematic destruction of the Armenian people and their cultural identity while the world was distracted by World War I.” One result, they said, was the Armenian diaspora, with one of the world’s largest populations in Greater Boston.
Then there were the icebreakers, the physical and mental activities that brought kids together – inventing new ice cream flavors, discovering “fun facts” about their birth years, or “introducing yourself with some kind of motion.”
Teacher Kim Limoli’s classroom featured what she called a “circle of power and respect.” The key to the exercise was a bunch of inflated balloons – way more than the dozen or so students. Each kid wrote their name on a balloon, which went into a pile. Students first had to find their balloons silently, then locate other’s balloons and present them, while “making sure you look at that person.” The process illustrated the advantages of working cooperatively toward a goal.
Aidan Tatar’s message on the whiteboard was, “Let’s have a great time together.” She brought students together by asking them to discuss whether foods like ravioli, smoothies, or cereal and milk can best be described as soup, salad, or sandwich. She also shared a “fun act – an ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain.”
The gymnasium hosted interactive demonstrations by high-school students from Callahan’s Karate Studio, featuring some stretching and games.
Meanwhile, in the cafeteria, shifts of students took part in community service projects, coordinated by Bedford Youth and Family Services and Cradles to Crayons.
Mallory Fuller, the youth services coordinator for the town agency, directed volunteers to dismantle piles of donated clothing, shoes, and toiletries and arrange them on tables by size and age suitability. “We’re helping a lot of families here,” she announced to her first group. “Giving back is always good.” She added a sign-up sheet for other community service opportunities.