Community is a longtime favorite topic of mine. Yesterday, as I was driving to class I spent some time reflecting on community and personal experiences. I attended a fairly large high school and college. There were times that I felt I was anonymous. I liked this anonymity. Or, rather, I thought I did. As I got into smaller classes and had classes with more and more of the same people, I realized that I felt more comfortable and that I was in a place where I belonged. When I joined Peace Corps, I still had notions that I enjoyed being an anonymous person in the crowd. Through my Peace Corps training I learned a lot about the importance of community, we had to get to know the people and places where we lived in order to do any work. Getting to know the people in your community was a primary goal. Moving to a small rural village shattered any speck of anonymity I had left. Everyone knew me and the village was so small we all had a good idea of people’s personal lives and habits too. This helped me feel like I belonged (as did all the home-cooked meals, warm greetings and friendly smiles).
I started thinking about this subject in the first place because of a new mentoring program at my school. Every teacher was asked to pick a few students to mentor. The teacher would visit the children they picked when they had the time (during planning periods and recess) and get to know them on a more personal level. The idea is to move beyond academics and get to know the whole child. This is such a great way to foster community and support students. Not only will the teachers get to know the school community better by visiting other classes and getting to know more students, these children will feel like this school is a place where they belong, a place they are known. I think we all are more successful in this type of environment.