The Spark of Community

Bill Fisher
The concept of community runs deep at Shore. From the House System to the Community Code, respecting and celebrating togetherness is one of the school's core values. For many students, it is also part of the curriculum, in and out of the classroom. Exploring the idea of community—how and why communities function, who makes them, and what they contain—intersects with topics in social studies, writing, geography, and literature, and supports children's learning in areas as diverse as classroom behavioral expectations and world history. Community is relevant in every classroom, and every grade.

In the Upper School, Pat Coyle's sixth grade history students choose a slice of the Shore community that is significant in their own experience, and use that as the basis for a personalized map of the school. One of the first history projects the students undertake, the Shore map has multiple purposes. "At the beginning of the trimester, we spend time looking at maps as a tool for historians," Coyle explains. "But one of the most important things we discuss at this early point in the year is how the world we are presented in a map—really, any information we may find—is influenced by perspective, bias, and context. We are learning that we have to be skeptical when we're absorbing 'facts'; we have to consider multiple points of view to understand a more complete story."

Creating their own map, and interpreting those created by their classmates, allows the sixth graders the opportunity to think about the community that is Shore from different perspectives and, says Coyle, "Connect their learning about interpreting information to the real school environment they live and breathe every day." The students discover, in fact, that one person's Shore may be very distinct from another's—part of the mystery and excitement that make the notion of community such as fascinating area of study.

In the Lower School, the excitement is the result of children's first forays into the literal communities that define their world. Second graders undertake a lengthy, multi-part investigation of community that expands in scope from negotiating rules and roles in their classroom community to meeting members of the wider school community, and finally to profiling individuals in their own home communities, from barbers to veterinarians.

A new addition to the first grade curriculum has students exploring Shore's campus as well as downtown Beverly, where historic buildings coexist with modern development, and where municipal services such as post office and police department are within walking distance of social services agencies such as Beverly Bootstraps. "We call it a 'walkabout,'" says first grade teacher Laurel Fitzpatrick. In navigating just a few blocks in the core of downtown, she explains, "The students encounter an incredible range of community elements, and it allows us to quickly introduce them to the real complexity of even a relatively small city. They can see the train roll through the MBTA commuter rail station, they can see the affordable housing and the 17th century historic sites, and they can look inside the jail cells and police cruisers and wonder why we have them." Exploring a community, it turns out, is an ideal way to spark further questions about how the world functions, and why things we take for granted came to be the way they are.

Meanwhile, back in the Upper School, students devote significant portions of each trimester involved in a range of service learning projects, from assisting at nonprofits such as Long Hill Farm and Family Promise for a few hours in the eighth grade, to traveling in the rural South for a week as ninth graders to help the Ipswich agency Partners in Development construct homes and provide other assistance to families in and around Glendora, Mississippi.

One of Shore's longest-running community initiatives, the Big Buddies/Little Buddies program, helps nurture relationships that last for years. Each fifth grade Big Buddy is paired with a Kindergarten Little Buddy, and together they meet at least once a week for reading and math practice; throughout the year, they connect on fun trips to Smolak Farms and other destinations. There's much in these relationships for everyone: the younger children gain a mentor and friend, and the older students find themselves humbled and adored by their young admirers, who never hesitate to reach out for a hand or a hug in passing in the Kiva.

Shore's House System, instituted just a few years ago, is a Buddies program writ large, bringing together not only students from every grade but also teachers and staff from every area of the school. Weekly the House members gather to share games, crafts, cheers, and songs, and several times each month all Houses fill the Trustey Family Theatre with their colorful House t-shirts, laughter, smiles, and celebrations. These moments of connection, just like all the other moments they spend thinking about and exploring communities inside and outside the school, are among the brightest sparks that illuminate the Shore experience.
    • First graders on their community "walkabout" in downtown Beverly

    • Sixth graders mapping their Shore community

    • A sixth grade map

    • Second and ninth grade buddies

    • Grade 7 service learning at Appleton Farms

    • Shore's House System