We call our school New Community Academy for a reason. Our learning environment relies on the concept of community for its success, and the progress of our students shows just how effective learning in a community atmosphere can be.
When we founded New Community Academy, we gathered our team and said, “Let’s build the school we would have wanted to go to.” One of the key factors that we felt was missing from our experiences, and from the traditional educational settings our kids come from, is a sense of true community, where every student is invested in building others up rather than competing with them or tearing them down.
As adults, we find that much of the world functions in groups. Bosses want people who can work in teams and be accountable for group results. Yet too often, we educate our kids in a competitive, individualistic environment, where the ability to really learn and work collaboratively gets lost in the need to get better grades and better test scores than those around you. We feel that approach is destructive not just academically, but socially and emotionally.
“This is the time when kids need each other the most,” our founder, Kimberly Gunderson, says. “So many kids have been beat up spiritually, emotionally. So we maybe sit them next to someone who can help.”
No student at New Community is left to be the “odd man out” because of academic, social or behavioral concerns. We strive instead to teach understanding and foster acceptance. In our classrooms, students can be found leaning over to help classmates with everything from finding page numbers to recording the results of experiments. Working in small teams of students to accomplish learning tasks means that the success of the group is dependent upon the success of the individual; encouraging others on the team to do their best, and helping them to overcome challenges, becomes a way of life at New Community. While small groups are working together, our teachers are available to circulate, encourage, and intervene when they see students who need extra assistance. They’re also able to compliment, lift up, and praise the strengths each person brings to the group task, modeling the kind of behavior we want to see between students.
In life, we all need each other and the skills that each individual can offer. No one person has to be able to do every single possible task; we reach out to others in our communities who can help when we need them. Some people are great website designers, so they can do that work for others. Some are excellent at car or home repair. Some are wonderful cooks, while still others are inspired teachers. To have healthy communities where everyone thrives, we learn to identify and rely on others’ strengths. That’s a key concept we impart to students at New Community Academy: Look for the strengths in others. By building and operating as a healthy community, we can have a safe environment where each person can learn and grow.