Throughout this school year, Calhoun teachers have been navigating the landscape of hybrid learning by finding new ways to create engagement and community in the classroom. Oftentimes, the best inspiration comes from the students themselves — as was the case with one second grade project, which became a powerful way to build connections in spite of physical distance.
The health protocols that were put in place in order to conduct school safely during the pandemic has meant that Calhoun hasn’t been able to host the in-person gatherings that bring different clusters and grades together. Noticing this absence, second graders began asking to send notes to their friends in neighboring classrooms. Teachers, who have been especially attuned to students’ need for connection in a socially-distant environment, proposed an idea: why not make mailboxes to facilitate the sending of letters between classes?
The second graders got to work, recycling and decorating old snack boxes, and tacking up their new homemade mailboxes outside their classrooms. The idea quickly took off. The second graders volunteered to make mailboxes for every classroom in the 74th Street building, so that they could write to younger siblings, friends and teachers in other grades. Now, students across the Lower School—Early Childhood division are writing to one another, keeping their community connections strong even when they can’t physically visit each other.
Besides the way the mailbox project has forged community, teachers have used the activity of writing letters as an opportunity to foster literacy skill development. Since the project was born from student interest, it has led to self-motivated writing, so that even students who wouldn’t normally gravitate toward writing have been excited to participate in letter writing. “As a teacher, a child’s interest becomes the springboard for the various skills that can be brought into the classroom,” says Lisa Gilbert, second grade teacher, who explains how teachers have woven the interest in letter writing into their curriculum.
As one example, second grade teachers had each of their students write a quatrain poem (a four-line stanza that rhymes) for Valentine’s Day. After finishing their poems, the class taped them all up on the wall and read one another’s writing. Students then had the option to choose any poem they liked to illustrate and turn into a Valentine’s Day card that they “mailed” to anyone in the building. The activity not only gave Calhouners the opportunity to practice their reading and writing skills, but the experience of displaying and sharing their poems fostered pride in their work.
The mailboxes still hang outside every classroom at 74th Street and continue to receive a flurry of letters. The project is just one example of how Calhoun teachers harness student interest and motivation to create a meaningful learning experience. And the genesis of the project — students’ desire to connect with one another — has served as a powerful testament to the importance of relationships at Calhoun, and a reminder that even in a year marked by challenge, community continues to endure.