LET CHILDREN DISCOVER THEIR OWN BRILLIANCE
Middle School Learning Fellowship Coordinator
Emily Bodfish moved to Kansas City from Denver last summer to be the Learning Fellowship Coordinator at Citizens of the World Kansas City. Her two children are also now students at the school, and Emily said both of her children are loving it. Emily’s position is what she says “sets Citizens apart from other schools.” Learning Fellowship is a class for 6th graders each day when teachers and staff talk to their students about “the things that they need to work on as they’re growing up and developing. It’s where they get to learn about who they are and how to interact with each other.”
Please tell us more about your role at Citizens and what students do in their Learning Fellowship class.
All 6th graders take the class every day, and they’re in this class the same amount of time that they’re in their math class or English class. We do mindfulness, restorative justice connection circles, identity projects, and most importantly, we do peer coaching. My role is to coordinate and to coach other instructors teaching the class.
What are some examples of projects you all have done recently in your class?
The last big activity we did as part of our identity projects this trimester was to work on an identity mask, so we asked students to think about their seen and unseen identities and to put that on the inside and the outside of their masks to represent who they are. This also addressed the idea that we wears masks and not everyone sees what’s on the inside.
We also focus on peer coaching two days a week. On Day 1 each week we focus on students’ processing and writing about something that is taking up space in their brains, something challenging, frustrating or that they might be upset about. Then we teach them about coaching so we focus on active listening or asking questions, acknowledging and validating. So on Day 2, students get to work with a partner to process what this big thing in their lives is, and they listen to each other and work with each other to solve problems.
Why is this focus of Learning Fellowship at Citizens so important?
This is so beautiful because we don’t typically make time for students to do this sort of thing. It’s not “write a five paragraph essay or let’s make sure that we learn how to multiply fractions.” All of those things are very important, but students are also developing and going through emotions, so we’re making space for them to process these big feelings at school as well.
This also comes into play in classes like math because our teachers can use skills that students are learning in Learning Fellowship, like mindfulness techniques and breathing exercises. They can take a break in class and do a deep breathing exercise for a minute and help students refocus or relax.
What has your experience been like as a Citizens parent this year?
The focus on social-emotional development has been wonderful for my son in sixth grade. Knowing it would be a small and close-knit group of students has been great and has exceeded my expectations in terms of meeting his needs. He has made friends quickly, more quickly than I thought he would have. He dances at school and makes jokes when he used to kind of sit back and put his head down. He clearly feels comfortable at Citizens, not only with his teachers but also with his peers. He has been recognized at the school for the core value of Authenticity for being who he is.
For my daughter in third grade, I would say the core value she has worked with has been Change. Leaving her previous school was painful for her as she left a great community and a great group of friends. But she has made such an amazing group of friends here so quickly. She’s got an amazing teacher, and the inquiry approach that Citizens uses in 3rd grade has been wonderful. She and I have really rich conversations about the things she’s learning in class. For example, they were learning about the Missouri Constitution and Bill of Rights. She had to put a check mark or an “x” next to each Bill to indicate whether she agreed or disagreed with it. I loved that she was asked to do this. We had different opinions on one of the Bills, and it led to her and me having a lovely discussion where we each shared our perspective. She walked away not being swayed by my opinion, but I think being even more set on hers. I thought it was so beautiful that we were able to have that type of conversation.