At least once a week, students in Angela Bailey-Aldrich's fifth-grade class at Cedar Island Elementary in Maple Grove gather in a circle for a community-building exercise. They focus on breathing to get everybody calm, then turn to today's topic: why friends are important.
"We feel that relationships are really important," said Leona Santillan, behavior intervention specialist at Cedar Island. "We're trying to teach them how to listen to each other, how to speak from the heart. How to share their ideas, how to be respectful."
Santillan says when kids feel like they belong, it helps.
"It does add up to kids being able to solve problems themselves," she said. "There's definitely less referrals, less trips to the office."
Principal Dan Wald says when kids are engaged in what they're doing and feel that they belong, they learn better.
"When students are excited to learn, it's easier to teach the basics. When they're active it's easier to teach the basics."
One way Cedar Island tries to engage students is with a year-end vocabulary parade where kids choose a word they learned during the year and parade in a costume.
"It's such a popular event, over 90 percent of our parents come to the vocabulary parade every year to watch their students," Wald said.Volunteers key to school success
Volunteers like Beth Burggraff are another part of this school community. She works for a living, but finds time to visit the school her son, Jake, attends to help stay in the know.
"I can get to know who Jake is hanging out with, I can get to know the other teachers so I know what's happening," Burggraff said.
Burggraff is one of 250 volunteers who put in more than 4,000 hours on all kinds of projects including a book fair, a first day of school meeting with families of new kindergarten students, and "kindness in chalk," an event where families decorate sidewalks with words of encouragement.
"We get a lot of work done, we make a lot of connections, so that's really what its all about," said Barb Lindsay, the volunteer coordinator.
The volunteering also extends to students. The Bobcat Council involves fifth-grade students who organize service projects like a food drive and bringing in their own change to donate for the care of a leukemia patient.
"It means something if they're the ones contributing," said Wald. "That's really what we're getting at is giving the feeling of giving."
Cedar Island has been part of the community since 1970, making it the oldest elementary school in Maple Grove. Wald, who's in his 15th year as principal at Cedar Island, says it's important to teach young students what community means.
"We have a chance to create citizens," Wald said. "We want our children to be good citizens when they grow up so we have a role in teaching that."
Mike Johnson, firstname.lastname@example.org