Joel Nkusi Rwabera is in his first year teaching at Citizens. The focus on social-emotional development at Citizens is something Joel has embraced and has found himself using often. “I’ve been doing some breathing exercises myself, even outside of the classroom,” he said. Originally from Rwanda, Joel recently became an American citizen. Having the support of his Citizens family played an important and special role in that process, and a number of students and teachers joined Joel at his Citizenship ceremony this fall. Coming to Citizens of the World KC has been great for Joel, and his enthusiasm and global perspective is something our students and staff are lucky to have!
How would you describe the culture of the school? I really think the culture here is one of true authenticity. At the schools I taught at before, it was different. There was no room for authenticity - for students or for staff members. We had to fit into a certain mold, and I never really felt like I could be myself or that students could be kids. They were expected to sit a certain way at all times. There was very little room for authenticity. But I feel at Citizens, we do have that, and it lets us embrace who we really are. So authenticity is how I would describe the culture at Citizens.
The diversity of our staff makes me stronger as a teacher because if there is something that I need to know but in a different area that I’m not strong in, I can come to those people and just learn from their expertise and have their input in what I’m doing in the classroom.
What is an example of that? Why do you think this is important to have as part of the curriculum at Citizens? We have a social-emotional curriculum at Citizens, and we do a lot of mindfulness and breathing exercises. It’s actually been a lot of learning for me too. Students come in with a lot of energy, especially after recess, and sometimes it’s hard for them to refocus and be calm. So I often do some breathing exercises to help them calm down and just to regulate their energy. What do you love about your job and about Citizens as a school community? I love the fact that at Citizens we let kids actually be kids. We understand that there is a lot of research showing that we need to base how we approach teaching on first knowing where kids are developmentally. That’s why I joined the school and what I like most about it. We actually know where our kids are at based on research and relationships, and we try to meet them where they are.
For example, through our social-emotional curriculum we realize that with middle schoolers there’s a lot of changes, and there’s a lot of emotions. Teaching them how to be mindful and using those deep breathing exercises when they need to and encouraging them to use that outside of the classroom as well, it equips them to be more aware of how they feel.
How do you see hands-on learning, which is part of the curriculum at Citizens, play out in your classroom? The curriculum I’m teaching - it’s pretty progressive, and I like that. We learn about a particular issue, and we investigate it. We always use a guiding question, and we use different forms of inquiry to investigate the issue and look at different nuances around it. Right now we are studying immigration and the border wall - and we look at all sides of the issue. Right now in class students are coming up with one aspect of that issue, and we get into groups of two or three and prepare a podcast. The students write it all out and record it themselves. That’s how they evaluate it. I think it is very cool that instead of just having them sit down and write an essay, this approach makes it more real and more engaging for them.