Community Day Makes a Splash at Greely
September 16, 2018
It’s 1:00 pm on a blazing hot Thursday afternoon in late August, the second day of the 2018-19 school year at Greely High School. The sun is out, temperatures creep into the low 90s, and almost every classroom and hallway is empty.
Outside, on the playing fields and walkways directly behind the school, more than 600 students talk and laugh, working on artistic sketches, playing Twister, throwing Frisbees, and getting in line for grape sno-cones and blueberry cotton candy.
On a strip of pavement outside the math wing, eight teachers set up guitars, drums, keyboards and microphones, untangling spools of cords and flipping switches and buttons and knobs.
Inside the air-conditioned library/media center, students sit around a table pulling letters for a game of Scrabble.
Back outside in the dunking booth, a brave Spanish teacher gets herself seated and ready for her first shift. Over on the bungee course, waves of cheers rise and fall and the bouncy house basketball dunking showcase is underway.
Scenes like these and many more were part of Greely Community Day on Thursday, Aug. 30, the first such event at Greely in many years and an attempt by the new administration and teacher and student leaders to create more community between students and teachers at Greely. The two-hour event, planned by new principal Mr. Hoffman, English teacher Katie Dexter, English teacher Lori Gunn, and student leaders over the spring and summer, was in part a response to student input about ways to improve culture at GHS, which arose through the GHS Culture Committee’s work last spring.
Based on comments from a wide spectrum of students, teachers, and some 600 student survey responses across all classes, the day is being seen as a positive step in new efforts to create a stronger sense of community, respect, and fun for students, teachers and staff.
“I wasn’t expecting bouncy houses!” said sophomore Mollie Obar. After reviewing her outdoor options, she introduced herself to some freshmen students. They ate cotton candy and watched the teacher rock band, The Faculties, she said. She said she “wouldn’t change a thing” and hopes Greely will do Community Day again next year.
Special education teacher Amy Jacobson and her students enjoyed watching teachers get dunked at the dunk station. “It was the best day ever!” said freshman Ethan Jensen.
His classmates, sophomores Lance and Coleby Rose, agreed. “The dunk machines were really fun!”
Jacobson said she also enjoyed the day and said, “I saw interaction between regular ed kids and life skills kids that I normally don’t see.”
At the same time people were enjoying the outdoor events, health teacher Denise Allen welcomed students who had come to see Harper and Jade, Greely’s therapy dogs, to her classroom.
“There was a stream of people the whole time,” Allen said. The students who visited were a combination of regular ed and life skills students. “These are students who don’t often get a chance to interact with each other,” she said. She hopes Community Day will happen again but said she hopes next time she can be in a location where she can see more of the action.
Both the Commons and the Auditorium were designated Quiet Spaces for kids and staff.
In the Media Center, STEM teacher Darren Bridgewater and other teachers played board games with students. Scrabble and Apples to Apples were popular choices, he said, but he would also like to bring in more modern games if the opportunity arises again. “All types of kids that had a common interest” stopped by to play, he said.
A few tables away from the board games, science teachers Jan Treadwell and Carrie Gianattasio enjoyed coloring with a small group of students. Treadwell said she believed the day built school community for newer Greely students. Referring to one freshman she colored with, Treadwell said she liked how the event “connected her to something on the second day of high school.”
Gianattasio said, “I like how it was so unstructured. Students didn’t have to stick with a certain adult or a certain thing.”
New GHS Principal Chris Hoffman said he was very pleased with the event overall and feels it contributed significantly to a positive start for the 2018-19 school year.
“I loved the interactions I saw,” said Hoffman, “the students being with other students, the students dancing to music by teachers, the kids making art. I most appreciated seeing kids interact with kids they wouldn’t normally interact with.”
When asked about exact attendance statistics for the event, Hoffman said, “It was quite good. Not perfect, but quite good, and I think that’s a positive indicator.”
Mr. Hoffman is still working with event leaders to compile the data from the four-question survey that students were asked to fill out in their advisories after the event but before the end of the school day.
While the day is widely seen as a success by students and teachers at GHS, organizers say there were a few things that could be improved on for future events.
“The way people got out of the building and having the alarms go off is something we can look at,” said Hoffman. “I’d like to see us be able to get outside easily without setting off alarms.”
Hoffman added that he’d like see more hands-on activities for students. “We could have used a few more things, things that could have involved construction and building things, something for students with other skills and interests.”
Katie Dexter said, “It would have been nice for faculty to engage in more of the activities, but since they were tied up with supervising or giving out food or performing in the band, they didn’t have the same opportunity. But I also heard from faculty who enjoyed interacting even with what they were doing.”
As Greely settles into the first quarter, many wonder how to build upon School Community’s Day positive energy.
“I wouldn’t do the same thing this year,” Dexter said, but she and others hope to “continue the momentum of what the Community Day provided and offered.”
“We’ve had some conversations already,” said Hoffman, “and I think there are some opportunities for another non-academic, high-participation day. But we have done no formal planning.”
Hoffman has also launched a suggestion box in the GHS Main Office, recently painted by junior Livy Giandrea, that awaits students’ ideas for continuing to improve school culture.
As senior Gowan Frost put it, “if you have enough people having a good time in the same space, community will inevitably grow from it.”
Correction: An earlier version spelled special education teacher Amy Jacobson’s last name incorrectly. We apologize for the error.
Story Layout: Abby Civiello and Anna Raley