Community Circles Create Attachment For Students To School – And Each Other

Love Elementary School 2nd grader, Deanna Jock, drew an emoji in her journal during Laurie Hind’s third grade class. Students were discussing fear and using emojis to show what fear looks like. They also use their journals to write down, and illustrate, key vocabulary words as a social/emotional learning activity during the Second Step program.

The Community Circlce in Kamaree Brown’s third-grade class at Love Elementary School is almost like a family.

Kamaree participates the circle daily with her teacher, Christine Yocum and her classmates. JPS teachers are using community circles as a tool to help students: feel more connected to each other and the school community, foster peaceful learning classroom environments and support social emotional development. In a Community Circle, teachers and students sit alongside each other and talk about a prompt, which could be about something learned in class that day or a class problem that needs to be addressed. Students share their thoughts and feelings about that prompt and everyone always has the right to pass if they are not comfortable sharing.

JPS elementary and middle school teachers are learning how to conduct community circles through training with Peaceful Schools, teaching staff how circle strategies support trauma-informed classroom practices and have been given opportunities to practice/apply circle prompts.

“Before we can ask students to invest in restoring their community, they first must feel attached to it,” said JPS Student Support Services Director Chad Bongiovanni. “We like to say that you cannot repair harm if no one cares about the community in the first place. The hands-on nature of this training also promoted an added benefit of community building between teachers and staff as they engaged in the training. We are using Peaceful Schools techniques in all schools in the district.”

Community Circles training was founded in trauma-informed neuroscience. It is also a healing-centered approach, which aligns with the district’s goals of diversity, equity and inclusion through focusing on celebrating community. The circles also provide structures for celebrating success, recognizing talent, acknowledging grief/loss, discussing harm, or coming together to solve a problem. Building a restorative culture through classroom circles can decrease the need for disciplinary action by building positive relationships and empowering the classroom community to address conflicts as they arise.

Persell Middle School sixth grader, Brynn Davis, shares her thoughts during a community circle in Kelly Cardinale’s class as classmates Sophie Evan and Lily McCraw listen. Students go around the circle and share their thoughts and feelings about a prompt.

“Our teachers are utilizing the community-building circles to have discussions about different topics so students have the opportunity to find commonalities with one another, as well as some differences,” said Fletcher Elementary School Principal Amanda Sischo. “In a community circle, the teacher participates as an equal member of the classroom, facilitating discussion rather than directing it. To give space for students to share their authentic voice, teachers can have students submit topics or have students lead the discussion.”

In addition, some Jamestown High School teachers have completed Peaceful School’s Nurturing Classroom training, with the rest to attend in October.

“Chronic stress and trauma can change the way a student’s brain functions, affecting their ability to learn and communicate effectively,” said JHS Principal Dana Williams. “This training highlights trauma-informed teaching strategies and will help staff develop a proactive eight-week plan to support student learning and growth, establish positive relationships in the classroom and explore how trauma affects student learning.”

The Nurturing Schools training will help teachers and other school professionals with an understanding of how positive interactions and relationships foster the learning process – everything from greeting students to the physical arrangement of the room, can positively set the tone for how students will learn. JHS English 11 ELA teacher, Aaron Jessey, is already using Nurturing Classroom techniques in his classroom.

“Understanding the simple fact that we have to meet kids where they are on a particular day is a foundation for my class,” said Mr. Jessey. “Meeting kids at the door by name, with a smile, how are you today, is there anything I can help with seems to help put them in good spirits. I am constantly verbalizing every little positive action they perform in my class to build their confidence and trust. They know they can be successful even on their worst day in my class. The mutual respect we have for one another as human beings is evident and I believe they want to learn everyday because of this mutual respect. Even if kids dislike ELA, they come prepared to learn everyday because they know I understand where they are coming from and trust me to get them through ELA and some of their toughest situations in life. I try to use literature to help them understand that they are not alone and literature can be a great outlet for their stress.”

Lincoln Elementary School first grade teacher Erin Mank and her class listen to a student tell them “What scares you?” during a Morning Meeting. Everyone had an opportunity to share and Mrs. Mank told the students what scared her, and offered ideas on what to do when students felt scared.


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