Lawrence Woodmere Academy’s Upper School has been coming together through circles of students breaking down barriers with ice breaker questions. For the first month of school and scattered throughout the year, students get to share their answers to questions as inviting as “What has been something hard in adjusting to this school year?” to as simple as “What do you like on your pizza?”
These circles were started by Ms. Maffei, Upper School English teacher. Her implementation of community building practices started with restorative circles last year where students would meet to address a specific issue that arose. These circles could be either student or teacher-generated depending on the issue.
“I know that a lot of the faculty had been talking about the culture of the school and the community of the school, and they really wanted to improve it,” said Maffei. “I had been doing a lot of reading about restorative practices and I knew we had a new demerit system that we were putting in and I thought it would be important to balance the demerit system which is punitive with something that was also restorative. When something’s restorative, you are bringing the students in, making them a part of what happens to them, giving students agency.”
“I don’t think it’s just our school [that needed the circles],” said Mr. Hoyle, principal of the Upper School. “I think that these circles would serve any school well. Any organization that has more than two people in it would probably benefit from these circles just because it’s not about the content, it’s about the communication that’s being promulgated and taught.”
Last year also saw discussion circles at the ends of classes on Wednesdays, each week . “Those were definitely community building,” Maffei reflected. “I heard positives from both [the discussion circles and restorative circles.]”
Now, those discussion circles are more randomized, bringing together students from every grade during many tenth periods in order to make our community closer.
So far, student response has been mostly positive. “It’s cool, I guess,” said Andrew Pean, class of 2020. “It’s good that we’ll get to know each other.” Other students didn’t feel as positive about the new circles. “You’re able to connect with people and they’re good,” started Ian Geraghty, president of the class of 2021. “But they’re too slow-paced and they need to be motivated more with more interesting activities, but they are good to communicate.”
One point of contention is the impromptu scheduling during most tenth periods early in the year with little warning, but the positives do outweigh the negatives.“I think that they weren’t planned as well because of a lot of tests that were going on,” said Allison Siegel, President of the Student Senate. “But I think that they were beneficial and the time was valuable.”
“We are a community and a family,” Mr. Hoyle declared. “Just like you have your family at home, no matter how many disagreements you have, you’re still family and you love each other. These circles that we had at the beginning of the year would hopefully support this community aspect because you can’t have a community without knowing each other.”