Following the strategic planning kick-off meeting at the Chicago Friends School last weekend, I was charged with asking the students what they hope for the school. My class began by brainstorming what we like about the Chicago Friends School now. Some of the examples were the nice students and teachers, after-school care, having math workbooks, exercising and gym, paperclip and holiday parties, playing at the park, field trips, weekend news, reflecting together, and hearing stories read aloud. Next, I had the students lie down and close their eyes to imagine their dream school. They were to think about what the building would look like, what the school would have inside and around it, and what they would learn. On ledger paper, the students had space to draw a picture of their dream school and write about it. The students dashed off to get started. I circled around to see what they were coming up with.
For the school building itself, some of the trends I saw were a school garden (a rooftop garden on one), swimming pools, an adjacent park to the school, lots of windows for natural light, 5-10 classrooms, a separate lunchroom, and a classroom pet. In terms of what the students would learn in school, some of the popular answers were another language such as Bulgarian or French, karate, math, tennis, basketball, woodworking, and all about the body. We had a discussion about the size of the school and the number of students who would attend. Most of the class liked having a small school where they know everyone; one student even preferred to have only four students per class! A couple other students were intrigued by a big, loud, busy school with a few hundred students. The class had such a fun time with this assignment and they were excited when I told them I would share some of their ideas with Karen for the future.
When reflecting back on the students’ dreams for the school, I think we are currently doing well. While we may not have a pool or karate classes yet, we have a lot of what the students like and value. As we grow and are able to add more after-school programs, and hopefully more elective classes that may include another language or skill, we can tick off most of what the students are dreaming about. The students were firm in letting me know what they liked the most about the Chicago Friends School — “that it is called a Friends school and we are all friends.” They did not want this to change, and as we grow, we will make sure to keep our warm, inclusive, safe community where we can all be friends.