At Phoenix Charter Academy in Chelsea, Massachusetts, our culture of continuous learning is centered around a strong community.
In preparing for this new school year, we spent countless hours proposing different ways to make our first week of school more engaging. What better way is there, we decided, than to start the school year with community celebrations, field trips and competitions? So we did just that, and called it Adventure Week, or La Semana de Aventura.
We launched a fresh school year preloaded with field trips to the New England Aquarium, Franklin Park Zoo and Suffolk University; friendly competition through co-ed basketball and soccer games; and on campus activities such as drumming, cookie decorating, Yoga, Zumba, drawing and a school-wide scavenger hunt. Scholars got to choose what activities they wanted to do and where they wanted to go, and collaborated within their communities through competition and community circle practice.
While curriculum of course remains our primary focus, we also believe in the importance of student voice, community and building core competencies such as reading critically, expressing oneself boldly, developing self-knowledge and sustaining wellness in order to raise the next generation of leaders to be self-sufficient adults.
Adventure Week aimed to welcome scholars back in a fun way, to shout out newcomers to our world so that they didn’t feel overwhelmed, and to engage students and staff in such practices. We were eager to implement these changes, but were also nervous to finally have our scholars back in the building and to see our results.
The response was huge. Our returning scholars came back to us happy and energized. It was so good to finally see them. New scholars came into our community as well but one thing was clear: Everyone was home.
Phoenix serves the most vulnerable and disconnected students in the community— those who have dropped out of high school, who are parenting children of their own, who are or have been involved with the juvenile justice system, who are older and new to the country and cannot gain access to public schooling, and students who are under-credited relative to the number of years they have spent enrolled in high school. With this subset of students, it is critical that they feel immediately engaged and excited by their curriculum and welcomed and acknowledged by their instructors and administrators.
It was so rewarding to hear scholars say, “I really like this school… It’s better than my previous school!” and “I see what you guys are doing! This is a trick! You guys want to keep us in school!”, demonstrating that they see that we are paying attention and that we are a caring community. The fact that scholars felt so compelled to open up, be vulnerable, and connect through this community was beyond our imagination.
We had so much fun during Adventure Week. It brought us closer to scholars and enabled us to build strong relationships from the beginning of the year. We can now continue the school year with a strong foundation to build from, and look forward to coming up with new “adventures” to keep our students engaged throughout the year.