Building Community

by Allison Johnson

The first weeks of any high school experience can be a time of nervous transition for new students. This year CRMS has introduced initiatives aimed at easing the passage for incoming freshman by giving them more time outside of academics or sports to get to know each other and build a greater sense of community in the class as a whole. Traditionally, some of that happens on the Wilderness orientation trip, but because Wilderness happens off-campus, this year staff decided to do more.

“The initiative was introduced to create opportunities for engagement early on in the school year for 9th graders,” says 9th-grade team leader Tracy Wilson, who teaches World Geography and runs the climbing program. “We wanted to build off of Wilderness, but also do something on their first weekend on campus to get them together and make them feel welcome.”

Relationship building happened on many levels at the first Freshman Weekend, which included bowling, pizza, relaxation time at a teacher’s house, a hike up Tick Ridge, and a tour of town for the boarding students. From bowling to board games, the weekend was designed to appeal to all types of students and familiarize both boarding and day students with the campus and all it has to offer. The weekend was also used as an opportunity to acclimate students to their new teachers and advisors and eliminate barriers or anxieties that students might have about reaching out to them.

“The faculty is different here,” says Wilson, who notes that she’s in her tenth year at CRMS and is still considered a newbie. “Teachers and advisors really want students to know that they’re here for students outside of class. All around students are people who will show up for them whether they have that teacher in a class or not.”

Wilson acknowledges that there’s a great deal of social, emotional, and physical development still going on in 9th graders, and so spending a weekend together with classmates and teachers also provides an opportunity for teachers to get the lay of the land in the new class. Staff members pay attention to students both as individuals and as a whole grade. The weekend gives them context so that if something comes up that needs to be addressed with a student, that moment is not a teachers’ first interaction with the student.

“Making connections and relationship building outside of the classroom was the biggest thing that we wanted to get out of it,” Wilson says, and that effort isn’t confined to staff and students. Over Family Weekend, Wilson will host a parents-only event at her house to give new parents the same kind of opportunity to mingle with teachers and advisors as their children have had.

Building a sense of community doesn’t end there. T-shirts are currently in production for the 9th-grade class, and Wilson hopes to offer freshman weekend events every six to eight weeks throughout the year to keep building that sense of camaraderie between students and staff. Although she doesn’t have any hard data yet that point to the success of these new initiatives, anecdotally the level of inclusiveness in this year’s freshman class has impressed her. “There’s been a lot of integration of students. It’s hard to know why, exactly, but it’s cool to see that transpire.”

Ultimately the notion of integration has filtered into the classroom as well. Ninth graders have spent their first quarter in interconnected academic learning around the theme of water as it relates to classes ranging from world geography to science to art.
“It’s built an understanding of the interrelationship of topics with students,” says Wilson. “But also it has built the collegiality of teachers as well. This has been a really productive time for all of us.”

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