This post was written by Jessica Skinner, School Counselor at Lake Carolina Elementary School in Blythewood, South Carolina

Building a caring learning community goes beyond the four walls of a classroom.  At Lake Carolina Elementary, the faculty and staff have been deliberate in their approach to developing a caring community since the school opened in 2002.  We have worked to foster authentic relationships among students, faculty, families, and other members of our surrounding neighborhoods. We acknowledge that each of these stakeholders is an essential part.

As a team of educators, we realize that in order to build a strong school community, it is imperative to invest in each other as colleagues.  Teachers participate in professional workshops and outside-of-school activities to cultivate genuine relationships with each other and develop the faculty into a cohesive team. What we learn as professionals is then transferred into individual classroom communities by incorporating strategies such as daily morning meetings and end of day closure gatherings that give students the opportunity to connect with one another.

Students are encouraged to personally use and highlight others’ use of the school’s core values throughout the day. The core values are incorporated into academic lessons and deliberately used in classroom conversations. Students frequently work together in small groups or pairs. We know that learning is a social activity and this collaboration is essential in developing a caring learning community.

At other times, multiple classes are able to collaborate together. The school’s reading buddies program is a cross-age mentoring program that allows upper grade levels to work together with younger students.  Another way classes collaborate among each other is when they all work together as a team to keep the school’s Peace Flag flying.  On days when the flag flies, it serves as a tangible symbol of Lake Carolina’s caring community. On the other hand, when major discipline infractions occur the Peace Flag cannot fly. Administrators, teachers, and parents use the event as a learning experience to help students discover what better choices were available and which of the school’s core values should have been used to avoid the Flag not flying.

A caring school community not only involves teachers and students, but also parents and community members. Teachers at Lake Carolina view themselves as active, invested members of the greater school community. They attend students’ extracurricular activities such as sporting events and dance recitals in the community.  They also partner with parents to organize community events such as a family heritage night that embraces our school’s cultural diversity, family game nights, and service learning projects.  Community members also participate in these events and frequently serve as volunteers during the school day, mentoring and reading with students.

The faculty and staff’s efforts to build a strong school community result in students feeling comfortable enough to openly share with adults at school their concerns about academic struggles, conflicts with peers, or difficulties at home. In many ways, the greatest attribute of a School of Character is its caring community.