While mini-term itself falls between Thanksgiving and winter breaks, the preparation for it usually begins the spring before. Teachers spend seven or eight months working together to choose a theme, create essential questions for students from five to fifteen years old to explore in age-appropriate ways, and then plan curricula, activities, field trips, and other experiences within their own classrooms and across our entire campus.
This year, as teachers considered the theme of Homes and Habitats, the idea of community service came up many times. Perhaps because of the contrast between planning to study the idea of home at the same time that the homeless population in nearby Greenfield was in the local news. Perhaps it was one of our essential questions about how humans and animals coexist that got us thinking about how we impact the other living things in our habitat. It certainly has something to do with the fact that, in every discussion around this theme with teachers and students, we all come away with the strong sense of our own love of and appreciation for the wonderful homes and beautiful habitats we all have the good fortune to have in our lives.
Regardless of the reason, we became committed to the idea of incorporating school-wide service into our mini-term experience so that our Bement community could reach out to those in need. However, we recognized that in just three weeks, we wouldn’t be able to design and implement meaningful service. Instead, we decided to use one of our eight collaborative activities as an opportunity for students to think deeply about their own homes, learn about each other’s experiences, and brainstorm about who and how we could help.
In the group activity, students participate in a circle discussion answering questions about everything from their homes (What is your favorite room in your house and why?) and their habitats (Do you live in a rural or urban setting?) to their actions (What is the kindest thing someone has ever done for you?). Then, they work together to identify different groups or causes in our community that need help and discuss ways we could help them. As mini-term comes to a close, we will compile these student ideas. When we return from break, students will have a chance to put ideas into action, as we decide how we can meaningfully contribute to a community in need.