Community-building to Launch the New School Year

In preparation for the beginning of the new school year, Sister Diana Dolce, Founder and Executive Director of Hope Hall, facilitated an activity among all of the teachers and staff at Hope Hall to inspire thought around the idea of “Community,” and what it means to be part of one. “Creating Community” is a cornerstone of Hope Hall’s education.

Many of our students come to Hope Hall, never before having experienced being part of a community. It is not uncommon for them to have been excluded from sports teams, not invited to birthday parties, shunned from school groups, and some have even experienced serious bullying.

So at Hope Hall, we consider it an essential part of our students’ day-to-day existence that they feel welcomed, included, befriended, and that they be surrounded by the warmth that being part of a community brings.

On Monday, August 29, small, 4-person mixed groups of teachers and staff gathered and began an activity by introducing themselves, not by their title, but by what they see as their role in contributing to the community at Hope Hall. Some teachers and staff do not necessarily get the opportunity to interact regularly on a day-to-day basis, so the introductions brought about new revelations and a deeper sense of acquaintance, which is vital to growing a sense of community, and for members to know and trust each other.

Those small groups then outlined, among themselves, what they perceived as necessary to feel part of a community. It was surprising how much commonality there was across the groups, as well as what a broad scope of characteristics are part of the concept of community. When one person from each group reported the results of the activity to the entire group, words such as “respect,” “communication,” “accountability,” “caring,” and “inclusion,” surfaced across most of the groups.

Members of each group then put their heads together again to outline the characteristics that lead one to feel they are not part of a community. Often, the words chosen, such as “isolation,” “lack of respect,” “selfishness,” etc., were opposite to those that produce a sense of community.

These activities will help teachers and staff reinforce the importance of Community to the students at Hope Hall to be able to bring a deeper understanding of what it means to our students.

If you talk to many of Hope Hall’s long-time students, they fondly remember their introductory visit to Hope Hall, with a sense of being welcomed by others—even those they hadn’t yet formally met. It’s not unusual for Hope Hall students to walk up to a visiting student and introduce themselves and invite the student to join them for lunch or ask them participate in a game during recess, making the new student feel welcome. It’s very common for Hope Hall students to walk up to visiting adults and shake their hand as part of their introduction, as the visitor and student exchange names.

That type of self-assurance comes from a sense of belonging to a Community. It is infused in them through teachers, staff, even their fellow students, and the general environment at Hope Hall. It comes from being part of “A School of Our Own,” where, the qualities and attributes that make each of our students unique is respected and celebrated.