In Community, Second Grade Finds Call to Action

Shore's Community Code is a familiar topic of discussion and investigation from Pre-K to Grade 9; in our classrooms, hallways, Theatre, and playgrounds, the tenets of Shore's Code—be kind, be true, be respectful, be open, be dependable, be my best—serve as the touchstone that communicates all of the school's shared aspirations.

But in second grade, students have the opportunity to take a closer look at one of the central ideas that runs throughout the Code—the concept of community itself. Their study of community extends from fall to winter.

"Starting from the first day of school," says Grade 2 teacher and Lower School Math Chair Carol Porter, "we really use the idea of community as a primary tool to inspire inquiry, discovery, and emotional growth."

A few main threads run through all the students' explorations, explains Porter: The ways that communities are impacted by the actions of their members; the importance of effective communication in building community connections through the sharing of feelings and ideas; and the notion that our beliefes, values, and environment shape our perspective and our lives.

"We bring these concepts to life through focused, concept-based units built around our classroom community, the Shore community, and our home community," Porter says. "We ask questions such as, 'How do we behave as a member of this classroom?' 'What are the roles of people in the Shore community?' and 'What kind of people are in your home community, and how do they help it to function better?'"

Those basic questions prompt numerous activities that are part of the second grade humanities curriculum. Their outcome consists not only of a wide-ranging understanding of communities, but also of a series of increasingly sophisticated, collaborative projects requiring field research, synthesis of ideas, and ultimately presentations in front of peers and parents.

"We start simply," says Porter. "We work as a class to figure out how the Community Code plays a role in our everyday life, we pay attention to the social skills that yield a safe and effective learning environment, and finally we develop a set of classroom rules that we all agree to follow by signing a class contract."

Soon, students are ready to step outside the classroom and investigate the wider Shore community. In an eye-opening, multi-day field "expedition" across the campus, students use floor plans to learn about different buildings, offices, and roles of the adults they meet. They learn about how to formulate open-ended questions, and then develop a set of interview questions for a particular Shore adult. "Finally," says Porter, "the students pair up to conduct a formal interview with the adult—who is usually delighted to receive two inquisitive second grade visitors—and they record the exchange on their iPad to share with the class."

Grade 2's community study culminates with a comprehensive investigation of one member of each student's home community. Popular choices include doctors and nurses, police officers and firefighters, entrepreneurs, librarians, and even barbers. Again, the students develop a set of written questions based on research about the role of their chosen interviewee, and meet with them in person to conduct an interview and record answers. Then, after reporting their results to the class, the students create a large-scale poster presentation that displays interview questions and answers, photos or drawings of the community member and tools of their trade, and a complete statement about the role they investigated.

"It's actually a fairly in-depth process that allows us to work on a lot of different skills and areas of knowledge," explains Porter. "Students learn how to formulate good questions, how to record answers during a conversation, and how to conduct an informational interview on their own with an adult they may not already know very well. They begin to understand the enormous variety of contributions made to their community by individuals in many different roles. And they then have to be able to switch gears and think about how best to present their findings to classmates and to parents, who are the audience for the final showcase of their completed posters."

"Of course," adds Porter, "our community unit isn't compete until the children write thank-you notes to everyone they interviewed. Learning to say thank you is actually a very serious part of the whole process, and it's something we know our students will continue to see emphasized throughout their Shore career and beyond."

    • Preparing for final presentations to parents

    • Hanging posters

    • Surveying their work