Supporting Belonging, Creating Bonds
How to start? The 12 sixth graders looked at the large, tippy wooden platform in front of them. Their goal was to step on, two at a time—without either end of the “boat” touching the ground—until they were all aboard. There were no directions, no assigned leader, no time limit. Two tall students stepped forward, ready to give it a try.
“There’s no way that the students on the left know what the students on the right are thinking,” cautioned the facilitator of the challenge. “Make sure everyone knows what the plan is.
The middle schoolers were discovering teamwork essentials at the PNW BOCES Challenge Course—a series of physical and mental challenges that can only be solved when groups of students work together. The field trip grew out of John Jay Middle School’s commitment to supporting a sense of belonging in each student which, in turn, correlates with a greater sense of well-being and higher academic engagement.
taking the first step
a sense of well being that supports academic engagement
“The goal is teambuilding,” said Assistant Principal Catherine Graybosch, who was watching the students find their way. “The students will learn about working together in small groups and take that skill to the bigger team.”
She was referring to the five academic teams that John Jay’s sixth grade is divided into: Aspire, Curiosity, Progress, Tapestry and Zest. The approximately 50 students in each rotate through same math, ELA, social studies and science teachers each day.
personal growth, team wins
All along the wooded trail of BOCES’s Challenge Course, groups of students were weaving through a spider's web made of rope, crossing an imaginary murky swamp on planks and hoisting each other over a shoulder-high waterwheel.
“The learning was also great and varied,” said Dan Novak, program coordinator of Center for Environmental Education, who was one of the facilitators. “At the end of the day, each student identified some way they or their team had a positive breakthrough. These included being selfless, strategizing and gathering different ideas. We also identified things that they want to keep working on such as clear communication, listening to one another and building trust.”
Back at Kukaloo Platform, the students huddled up and set a strategy. They tried one idea, regrouped, and tried another approach. By the time the students ultimately balanced together on the platform, it was a team win.