Jen Horshman, FBRA Girls Program Director
Looking at the political landscape in the United States, most anyone would agree that there is a lot of discord and a large dose of ineffective communication. If only politicians had learned how to resolve issues and problems in Community Meetings at FBRA.
Community Meetings are part of our Life Skills curriculum that develops leadership skills of communication, advocacy, and action. All views are heard and respected. Each grade level A/B cohort of 12 students have a weekly community meeting for 30 minutes. Students and staff are able to voice any issues and advocate for positive solutions that will enhance the class and school. Solutions may be adopted or need to be proposed to the right people who can make the final decision before implementing.
Like most meetings, without effective norms and structure, FBRA Community Meetings would break down into finger pointing and shouting. Being willing to work within the process is a key to its success.
To begin the Community Meeting, students come into the Salamander assembly room and sit in a socially distanced circle. Roles are assigned, and the Topic Facilitator starts with a mindful moment where students think about what issues they want to bring to the meeting. Over the school year, everyone rotates fairly through a variety of roles:
After the class determines some solutions, they must think about who needs to be informed of the final decision and how they are going to convey their solution ideas. The first thing they do is fill out an Advocacy Form that goes to the Director and Dean of Students. The Advocacy Form has questions like: Explain your idea. In what way does this student advocacy align with FBRA values and mission? List the pros and cons. Then one student usually volunteers to review the Scribe’s notes to create a document to draft their ideas for everyone in the class to comment and finalize. That doc is either shared with their pod teachers or any necessary administrators. Finally, the students will determine a time to meet to talk with their teachers.
An example of how this works in real life was when the eighth graders recognized that they were struggling with inclusion. They realized that some people were sitting with the same people at lunch, in the vans, and at break. After going through the Community Meeting, the girls decided to enter the vans with different criteria like by shoe sizes or birthdays. For lunch they decided that they would put their stools in one big circle so no one’s back was to another. And they decided to play group games at break that naturally mixed everyone up like four square and gaga ball.
Community Meetings are culture defining and unifying experiences. Students know they have a forum to channel their complaints, frustrations, problems, and celebrations. They know there is genuine support to be heard and encouragement for innovative solutions. Community meetings are another empowering way we at FBRA fulfill our mission to build character and integrity for a lifetime of learning, service, and leadership.