By Megan McDonnell, Lower School Theater Teacher
One of our beloved traditions at 74th Street, home to our preschool through second grade students, is our regular get-togethers that we call assemblies. We use assemblies to recognize achievements, celebrate holidays, and explore shared learning opportunities. They are special moments where we see children and teachers connecting across grades, all while sharing meaningful experiences around a central theme.
As I am often very happily entrusted with assembling these treasured moments, I strive to create assemblies that are impactful, connected to curriculum, and supported by multi-age learning. Recently, I have been employing the use of our brilliant second graders in the process of planning and implementing these programs.
The process of participating in assemblies is meaningful for all of our students and teachers alike. The youngest students love nothing more than seeing the “big kids” perform, teach and lead. The slightly older students imagine how they will fill these roles when the torch is passed to them. The teachers revel in watching our little seeds grow and blossom into competent leaders and entertainers. Finally, the second-grade students do an amazing job of filling the needs of each event with their greatest strengths.
For each assembly, teams of faculty are formed to create the structure and scaffold of the event. We consider the topic to be celebrated and then look at what is currently being explored by our students in the Lower School. If there are commonalities, we find ways to make thoughtful connections with our curriculum.
The last several years we have kicked off our school year with a school-wide celebration and assembly at 74th Street that resembles a pep rally. This, our first get-together of the year, is largely led by student-athletes from the Upper School, and it sets the tone for student engagement and leadership.
Recently we had an assembly for Halloween. Traditionally, we come together to share our older students’ costumes, sing songs, and see a performance of The Little Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams, a storybook that’s taught to all preschool-2nd graders in Theater/Movement class. This book, which has bravery and creative problem-solving as central themes, has become ingrained in our curriculum and a beloved tradition in the Lower School – because who couldn’t use a little extra dose of courage now and then? There’s also an added foreign language element to our study, because we incorporate Spanish vocabulary into our performance. Usually the teachers put on this reenactment of the book, but when I was planning this year’s assembly and thinking about assigning roles, a fresh idea began to form… the second graders were ready for a taste of the limelight! (Please see this link for video footage of these performances.)
Our next assembly takes place before the Thanksgiving break. In the classrooms this month, our school-wide curricular focus in social studies and literature has been centered around Indigenous Peoples, so our assembly will include culturally-relevant tales, alongside songs and Spanish language exploration. We have developed a curriculum-rich program that is relevant to the full range of our young students, and it should prove to be fun, entertaining, thoughtful and culturally rich!
Lower School assemblies continue to be opportunities to not only build community, but to forge deeper connections with our curriculum. And as students get older and take more active roles in our assemblies, they learn essential leadership skills that they’ll take with them to Big Calhoun and beyond.