By Liz Caffrey, Middle School Math Teacher
In our first year as the Atrium Middle School in 2014-2015, we had a lot to celebrate. We had built a strong program that the teachers and the students were all proud of. Additionally, we had successfully transformed the newly remodeled lower level of Atrium School into a truly wonderful learning space for our middle school students. But one of the things that stood out when we took stock at the end of the year, was wanting more time to interact with the elementary (PreK-5th) students and teachers. We wanted to get to know them more fully, and for them to get to know us! Thus, Constellations was born.
Constellations are mixed-grade groups consisting of students from PreK to Grade 8 that are each led by two teachers/staff. There are 13 Constellations groups in total; most groups have 10 or 11 students. Groups meet once a month on Friday mornings for 40 minutes. The goal is to do activities together that allow the kids of all grades to get build relationships. There is also an opportunity for the older students to serve as leaders as they work with the younger students. Each constellation group is named for a real cluster of stars. To name a few: we have Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Orion, Pisces, and my constellation, Draco the dragon.
Before each Constellation's Friday starts, the school is a hive of activity. Middle school students are buzzing to the PreK, K, and Grade 1 classrooms to pick up their younger buddies. It is so sweet to watch a big tall eighth grader holding the hand of a young PreK student as they walk to their Constellation together. Soon, students from all the grades are buzzing in various directions as they find their Constellation classroom.
My favorite part of Constellations is watching the younger kids arrive to my classroom. Our Grade 2 student usually bounds in first, plopping into a chair or a beanbag and eagerly asking “what are we doing today?” Then the Grade 4 and 5 students arrive with Nicole, my co-Constellation teacher. Last but not least to arrive are the kindergarteners, lovies in tow, who are shepherded by our two Grade 8 students.
At the beginning of the year, we worked on our Constellation flags, which we hope to unveil at an assembly soon. Each flag has the constellation name and shape, as well as the name of each member of the group written on a star. The idea is that these groups will stay the same year to year, allowing members to really get to know one another well, and grow up together within the school. We will add more stars to each flag as we get new members.
Now that we have finished our flags, each time we meet as a Constellation, we do a fun group-bonding activity together. In our February meeting, Aries created an art project about what brings each child joy, Draco did buddy reading together, Hercules played sports in friendly competition with Libra, and other groups played board games and built things out of Legos. The activities rotate so that each group gets to experience different types of fun together.
As groups get to know one another better, we hope to try sitting together with our Constellations at assemblies. We also hope to provide more leadership for middle school students, involving them in the planning and leading of activities. Already, I can see the benefits of coming together in this way once a month. I can walk into any classroom in the school and know that there is a smiling face who I know and who knows me - one star that stands out. And for each of us, that star is someone different. It’s just another way to know children well and foster connections within the school.