A couple of months ago, five school communities in Springfield School District 186 in Springfield, Illinois, experienced the power of promoting unity and cohesiveness, engaging with families and showing students how much they care.
It all started years ago with an exchange program for Mix It Up at Lunch Day between Iles School (my 1–8 school) and Washington Middle School. Our middle schools already had a co-op for sports and jazz band, so Mix It Up was a perfect fit. Mixing it up has helped Iles and Washington students and staff become well acquainted. Later, Iles Elementary started mixing it up with Matheny-Withrow Elementary. Each year, our schools participate in team-building exercises and practice hospitality with one another.
So when Washington invited Iles to participate in its Fall Festival back in October, we jumped at the chance to bring along our friends at Matheny-Withrow and Feitshans Elementary, both located a few blocks away. The east side of Springfield doesn’t have the best reputation in the city, and we wanted to involve other schools nearby that understand that feeling. Putting on a positive event in this community was something we wanted to do to show families and community members that we care about our students and value our neighborhood schools. Later, Lanphier High School decided to participate. That’s when the fun really began!
Together, our five schools planned a joint Fall Festival, an educational and engaging event that demonstrated it’s more difficult to harbor prejudices and misunderstandings about someone when that person is your friend.
The Fall Festival took place on a gorgeous autumn Saturday afternoon. Administrators, teachers, students and families from all five schools created and staffed booths and tables featuring fun and informative activities, school information and community resources. Students got to give back to their communities in meaningful and relevant ways, and they got to do it with their families and educators. The schools’ theater and athletic clubs got involved, and the Lanphier High School drum line performed. Washington’s AVID students and Lanphier’s Honor Society and baseball team even helped with a book fair at the festival.
A number of community partners joined the fun. The University of Spa and Cosmetology Arts brought over half a dozen barber and hairstyling students to do free haircuts, and Sangamon County Community Resources came and raffled off clear book bags full of school supplies. The Springfield Urban League’s Wellness on Wheels program gave free health screenings. Representatives from the Springfield Fire and Police Departments gave tours of their trucks and cars, and Kapital Sound, a live band, got everybody rocking with live music.
We hope that more schools, especially feeder schools, can work together and create the unity that our schools experienced that day. That kind of collaboration at the primary level can even make transitioning to secondary school easier for students and families.
The more important result, though, is that this event led to greater openness and willingness to work together as one educational community, not everyone on their own in their separate buildings. So many schools and communities all over the nation are characterized as “good,” “bad” or “somewhere in the middle.” From our experience that day, we know that, in order to make lasting change in our educational community and beyond, the community needs to work together.
Frachey is the student support leader at Iles School in Springfield, Illinois.