By Ellen Perconti, Superintendent of Goldendale School District in Washington State.
The 2021-22 school year is off to a great start, and our staff and students are enjoying being back together daily for learning and growing. Our focus in the Goldendale School District this fall is on connection. Feeling connected increases our ability to learn. This is true of young children, adolescents, and adults. We all need to feel connected to others, to what we are learning, to the environments around us, and to our broader community and world. These different forms of connection strengthen our lifelong skills and deepen our learning.
Interpersonal connection is the ability to connect and interact with the people around us. Starting in Kindergarten, we support our learners in forming positive relationships with their peers. The skillset for forming close, interpersonal connections continues to develop as we age, helping us navigate the complexities of our relationships and share in the experience of mutual understanding. When we feel connected to others, we are able to learn with them, be empathetic, and create positive support systems.
Our teachers have supported this growth in students by getting to know students and families during Family Connections in our first three days of schools. Teachers use what they learn about their students as they design instruction, tapping into interests and background knowledge. They also specifically teach communication and collaboration skills to support students in connecting with their classroom community.
Environmental connection is our ability to connect with varying natural and physical environments. Our environments consist of what we experience outside, inside, and even online. We have an impact on and within these spaces, and they each have an impact on us.
During summer school, our students actively worked to change the physical school environment by adding picnic tables at the Primary school. This addition allows students to expand their learning outside. Our brains need movement and time outside to take full advantage of learning.
Often in schools we segment our day and teach content in isolated, unconnected ways. But our learning is enhanced by creating connections across and between content areas. This year, we’re focusing on increasing conceptual connection by helping students form links between learning areas, and by connecting what students learn with their interests and lives outside of school.
Finally, connecting with our community, inside and outside of our schools, helps us make a difference in the lives of others. Children connect first with their immediate family, then with extended family, peers, the Goldendale community, and beyond. As this growth happens, students put their learning to work by making a positive difference in people’s lives and their communities.
Randi Krieg, Goldendale Middle School teacher and ESD105 Regional Teacher of the Year, as a part of her Teacher of the Year application shared a Killdeer project that her students engaged in last year. This project provided students with an opportunity to connect science, writing, and a community problem. The students researched impacts, generated questions, and connected with community partners. It’s one example of the many projects and learning experiences that happen daily in GSD schools.
The antidote for loneliness, disengagement, and isolation is connection. Our focus on connection is intended to support students in developing critical lifelong skills that will assist with their well-being and contributions to their community.