Creating Community Together Part 2: Class Meetings

Anna Schwind sneaks us in to take another peek at the magic of Elementary classrooms …
Class Meetings: Dialogue, discussion and decisions.
Welcome to the second part of the series on creating community together. The previous entry  was focused on the early work the children do to establish guidelines and norms for the school year in each classroom. But, of course, troubles and complications will arise even when we’ve created a class constitution. Not everyone can abide by the rules as set all the time, and conflicts over interpretations of the constitution will appear almost as soon as the ink has dried.
So each classroom must have a mechanism for revisiting the guidelines as established, and for modifying and refining the ideas that were first set down to address specific situations that arise. The usual tool used for this is the class meeting.
Like the creation of the class constitution, the class meeting can have a variety of formats or be run in a variety of different ways depending on the children and the teacher, but at its most basic, the class meeting is a convening of all children and adults in the environment. Meetings can be regularly scheduled or not. They can be announced or impromptu. They may or may not have agendas. They can be quick or extensive. In fact, the children will have already experienced a class meeting on their first day, even if it is not labeled as such, because gathering to create the class constitution was – itself – done through a class meeting.
 The class meeting is where the children have the opportunity to work on a variety of critical social skills as well as gathering as a group. A class meeting could be as simple as an announcement about an unusual itinerary for the day or it could be tackling a thorny and persistent issue surrounding interpersonal relationships or coming together as a group to tackle a class-wide problem. In a class meeting all are expected to listen to the speaker, to raise their hands and wait to be acknowledged before they speak, and to present their ideas or comments in as clear and constructive a way as possible.
 As mentioned before, the ideal situation is one in which the children have as much responsibility as they can handle. In some classrooms, children call class meetings or make agendas. Guide Megan Eilers has implemented a fabulous system for class meetings which places the bulk of the responsibility on the children. They decide on the agenda and run the meetings, which are scheduled weekly.
It works like this:
There’s a notebook in the classroom where members of the community (children or adults) may write class meeting topics, along with their name.  Items written in the book are of two types: announcements and reminders which do not require discussion or input, and matters which are to be discussed and decided on by the group (usually through a simple majority vote).
Three children are assigned to run the meeting each week. Those children will gather the day before the regularly scheduled class meeting to decide on the roles each will play and the agenda for the meeting. They categorize the topics their classmates have written in the notebook as either requiring discussion or not. They then choose one or two things that require discussion and three or four of the announcement type items to cover. Preparation for the meeting also entails checking in with the person who wrote in the notebook to make sure the topic is still relevant and to see if that person has something they need to contribute at the meeting. They also decide on their roles: secretary (takes notes during the meeting, recording all solutions offered and resolution of votes), officer (assists children in following the meeting rules with non-verbal reminders – such as a shoulder tap, also calls on children to speak and keeps track of the time) and facilitator (leads the meeting, opens and closes each item for discussion, and oversees voting).  Once they have settled on the agenda and their roles, they are ready to run the meeting.
As expected, the first few meetings were a little bumpy, but as the students practiced working with the notebook items and the agenda and each of the different roles, they have become more skilled. Class meetings run smoothly now, and everyone knows what is expected.
After the meeting, the meeting notes and agenda are placed back into the binder, as a public record for the entire community. Should anyone forget what was decided, they can check.
Now that you’ve seen an example of a class meeting, stay tuned for the home version: the family meeting.

Special thanks to Megan for thorough information on the process for her class meetings and to Melinda Smith for the beautiful pictures of said meetings!

Anna, thank you! You bring the Elementary experience to life.

Black History Month Events

To begin our celebration of Black History Month, we want to share some of the many events available in the St. Louis region. Choose the ones that speak to your interests, or choose a venue you’ve never been to, and take time to purposefully learn and celebrate.

The list below is just a fraction of what is going on this month (more here!) let alone the work, art and events that go on year round – more on these to come as well!
Image Credit: Saint Louis Art Museum

February 1 – February 10: Kehinde Wiley: Saint Louis
St. Louis Art Museum
All ages: Kehinde Wiley “invited strangers he met in neighborhoods in north St. Louis and Ferguson to pose for his paintings. Wiley then created eleven original portraits that are inspired by carefully chosen artworks in the Museum’s collection.”

February 7: Unfinished Business: From the Great Migration to Black Lives Matter
Thursday, February 7, 7 p.m.
Missouri History Museum
The Missouri History Museum will host a special screening, which features a compilation of oral histories of African American elders from historic black churches throughout the country.

February 9: Creative Kids: Great Migration Mapping
Saturday, February 9, 3 p.m. – 4 p.m.
St. Louis Public Library – Central Library
School aged children: Children listen to Jacqueline Woodson’s book This is the Rope and map out the family’s journey on a large interactive map of the United States. 

February 11 – 16: Display Reception: Where’d You go to High School: The Black High School Experience in St. Louis
Monday, February 11, 10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.
St. Louis Public Library – Machacek Library
All ages: Join us for the opening reception of this traveling pictorial and interactive display about Black high schools in St. Louis since the Great Migration.

February 14: Book Bingo: Black History Month
Thursday, February 14, 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
St. Louis County Library – Indian Trails Branch, Registration recommended.
All ages: Play bingo, have fun, win books.

February 16: Family Day at the NBM – Black History Jam
Saturday, February 16, 10:00 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
National Blues Museum
All ages: It’s free admission for families, and will include live music, scavenger hunts, story time, hands-on activities, and crafts! It will also include our Musical Petting Zoo!

February 20: After-School Club: Robots
Wednesday, February 20, 4:00 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.
St. Louis County Library – Oak Bend Branch
Ages 5-12: Drop by the Children’s Section to get hands-on time with various robots and learn a little about some famous African-American inventors.

February 23: We Are Magic
Saturday, February 23, 2:00 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.
St. Louis County Library – Natural Bridge Branch, Registration required.
Ages 4–11: Celebrate fairy tale adaptations featuring diverse characters through spell-binding activities, face-painting and a movie. Dress-up encouraged.

February 23: Underground Railroad Shuttle Tour
Saturday, February 23, 10:00am – 12:00pm 
Alton Visitor Center
Learn about local, Underground Railroad sites on a shuttle tour with J.E. Robinson Tours and the Great Rivers and Routes Tourism Bureau. The two-hour guided shuttle tours will stop at some of the sites that were part of the Underground Railroad system including Rocky Fork Church, Enos Apartments and more. 

Ladysmith Black Mambazo id=
Image Credit: The Sheldon

February 24: Ladysmith Black Mambazo 
Sunday, February 24, 7:30 PM 
Sheldon Concert Hall
For over 50 years, South African a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo has spread the message of peace, love and harmony to millions all over the world. Now led by the sons of legendary founder Joseph Shabalala, the 2017 Grammy Award-winners for Best World Music Album return to The Sheldon with uplifting vocal harmonies, signature dance moves and charming stage presence. Before the concert, you’ll have the opportunity to view A World of Music – Celebrating St. Louis’ Immigrant Communities, from The Sheldon’s Hartenberger World Music Collection, in the Sheldon Art Galleries.

 Please let us know if you attend any of these events! We would love to hear feedback about which programs are particularly interesting and beneficial to our community.

Thanks to Jade Venditte for the compilation of events!

Snow Days, School Days…

Yes, it’s still cold here in St. Louis… The children are generally undaunted by the weather though and make the most of whatever Mother Nature hands them. There isn’t quite this much snow on ground anymore but look what joy the children have taken in our campus this winter!

We are so lucky that our campus allows for sledding! Elementary children bring their sleds and take off with their friends on our (moderate!) hill.

A first year child’s first experience of this Elementary privilege.

There are outdoor attire rules… I’m guessing the child’s hood just flew off mid-sledding…

Teamwork makes the dream work!

Recess is, of course, fun and provides lots of time for the gross motor movement and is so great for children. But, this movement is not limited to recess, and the snow and cold doesn’t stop the children from getting their work done.

“The child’s instinct confirms the fact that work is an inherent tendency in human nature; it is the characteristic instinct of the human race.” -Dr. Montessori

Let me once again proclaim the photographic brilliance of Melinda Smith! Thank you, Melinda!


As the temperature dives and the windchill plunges, let’s take a look at the joy and warmth in the prepared environment. Below is a glimpse into lemon squeezing in the Parent-Child community. This is great food preparation work to try at home!

We can just imagine that this lemon juice is being made into lemonade to be enjoyed on a warm day…

And here is another take on toddler lemon squeezing… and subsequent “sense exploration” (aka sneaking a taste).

Special shout out (as always!) to Melinda Smith for sharing your photography skills with us. It was such a pleasure to have you join our class!

Reading Material

Books are a fantastic way to introduce concepts, build understanding and foster attitudes. Building off of last week’s ACTivist presentation on civil rights, below please find some suggested books that may help spark conversation and dialogue with your children.

Jazz Age Josephine

Written by Jonah Winter

Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

The story of St. Louis native Josephine Baker is beautifully portrayed in Jazz Age Josephine. Here we follow Josephine on her journey from poverty to stardom in Paris and all of that lay in between.

We March

Written and Illustrated by Shane W. Evans

A beautiful book portraying one family’s participation in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, this book is written for the youngest audiences. Children and adults alike will appreciate the artwork that graces the pages. The author writes, “It takes people of all ages and cultural backgrounds to move a nation into a new era of freedom. In a sense, these marches pushed old ideas out of the way and moved new ideas forward.”

Brick by Brick

Written by Charles R. Smith Jr.

Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

This tells the story of the roles slaves had in building the original White House. Through telling this story, Brick by Brick offers truth and a holistic approach to history that is so often missing. This is well worth reading and discussing with our children.


Follow the Drinking Gourd

Stories and Pictures by Jeanette Winter

This book tells the story of Underground Railroad conductor Peg Leg Joe who hired himself out to plantation owners. He taught the slaves he worked alongside the folk song “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” the lyrics of which were laced with information for escaping to Canada. This is a book my children pick up over and over at the library.

Juneteenth for Mazie

Written and Illustrated by Floyd Cooper

More than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, news of the end of the Civil War and slavery was announced in Galveston, Texas. Juneteenth celebrates this announcement, and this book beautifully tells the story of its celebration and importance generations later.

My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey

Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Illustrated by James E. Ransome

In the foreword, Robert Battle writes, “Dance is a metaphor for how we get through life. It’s about timing, it’s about daring, it’s about grace, it’s about intensity, it’s about overcoming difficult steps – but then, finally, it’s about finding joy.” This book is geared toward elementary children, offers inspiration and indeed tells a story of finding joy.

Another point to consider when choosing books to share with your children is the preponderance of fiction featuring white characters. Regardless of your family background, you can make a conscious choice to offer your children a diversity of characters and perspectives. This includes seeking out stories of nonwhite characters having experiences unrelated to their race or ethnicity.

Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans

Written by Phil Bildner

Illustrated by John Parra

A favorite in our house, this book about clean-up efforts post-Katrina is based on the work of a sanitation worker and tells the story of a city coming together. The author notes, “Cornelius symbolizes what the city of New Orleans is all about – the energy, the spirit, the magic, the people. That’s what brought all those volunteers to the Crescent City, and inside each one was a little bit of Marvelous Cornelius.”

The Zoey and Sassafras Series

Written by Asia Citro

Illustrated by Marion Lindsay

Great for reading aloud or for independent reading, each book in this series features a magical animal. The scientific method features prominently in the books as Zoey does experiments and research.

Last Stop on Market Street

Written by Matt de la Peña

Illustrated by Christian Robinson

This book captures the journey a young boy and his grandmother take on a Sunday morning. The story is full of the questions of childhood, “Why don’t we have that?” “Why do we do this?” The grandmother has beautiful answers to each of her grandson’s questions – answers we all may aspire to be able to give the children in our lives.