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The City Journals

Riverside eagles flock together

Sep 09, 2019 01:15PM ● By Jet Burnham

Students from various classes play together at recess. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

In the past at Riverside Elementary School, home of the eagles, birds of a feather flocked together — students in the dual language immersion classes did not interact with students in the general education classes. In fact, they were very territorial during lunch and recess.

“Dual Language Immersion schools, by their nature, have a built-in division of students,” said second-grade teacher Zelda McAllister. “If there are four classes in an elementary grade, two of which are DLI, those students will never have a non-DLI student in one of his/her classes.” Teachers noticed the Us vs. Them division became even more pronounced in the upper grades.

Staff at Riverside Elementary took a bird’s-eye view of the problem and decided to ruffle some feathers. They grouped students into Eagle’s Nests, formed from a mix of students from all classes in each grade. Each teacher takes a nest under wing for an hour every other Friday.

“They really don't know each other; they've never been in the same classes,” said Principal Ronna Hoffman. “We're mixing them up so that they can get to know each other.”

The idea, hatched by second grade teachers, Hoffman and Brittany Greco (BYU intern facilitator last year), kills two birds with one stone: It provides an opportunity for the kids to get to know each other and a forum to teach them social values and skills.

“We decided to focus not as much on character as on how to form relationships,” Greco said. “We felt like that is what our kids are lacking nowadays.”

Biweekly nest activities focus on developing relationships and building character, starting with getting to know each other, then moving on to community building.

“Playing name games and other activities that show students what they have in common with other students was a way to get conversations started and would hopefully carry over to the playground and beyond,” said fourth grade teacher Hiedi Johnson.

Teachers aren’t just winging these specialized lessons. They are provided with activities, digital links, book suggestions, game ideas and teaching materials to support monthly topics such as respect, emotional vocabulary, kindness and mindfulness.

Second grade teachers experimented with a similar small-scale program of eagle nests in 2017–2018. After seeing the successful results of the second grade experiment, Hoffman knew it would “fly” with the rest of the students.

“I think students have gained a better sense of empathy for others by interacting with other students that they may not have talked to without the nests,” Johnson said. “They learned to see beyond the walls of their classrooms and have made new friends beyond their DLI or Gen Ed classrooms.”

Eagle nests have been a solution to bullying and other negative behaviors.

“When you don't know someone, you can be anonymous, and it's easy to be mean,” Hoffman said. “But when you know someone and you know their name, you've talked to them before, there's just more of a desire to be kind.”

McAllister said the program also strengthens relationships between teachers and students.

“Not only do students know each other better, but we as teachers have a closer relationship with more students,” she said. “I have students now who seek me out saying, “I’m in your nest.” It gives them another adult who they know cares about them.”

The shift in school culture because of the program will not be going the way of the dodo any time soon. This year, teachers will take a new mix of students under their wing in their eagle nest. Lessons will be incorporated with the schoolwide behavior program.

“Incorporating the nests each year will help to mix the population and give students the opportunity to make new friends, meet new teachers and build relationships that they wouldn't have otherwise,” Johnson said.