Building a Safe and Supportive Community at Boston’s Edison School

“We represent over 40 different countries and over the past two years, I have run the annual multicultural event, which has been a cool thing at the end of the year to celebrate diversity in our school,” Shelby Riley explained in a recent interview.

Riley is the one of the City Connects site coordinators in Boston’s Thomas Edison K-8 School, where nearly 60 percent of the Edison’s students come from disadvantaged homes, according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and 49 percent are English Language Learners.

“With all that’s going on in our world, our families are very much affected by it,” Riley adds. “We had a lot of kids in fear of being deported.”

After brainstorming with Edison’s principal, Samantha Varano, Riley worked with a team of teachers to organize a multicultural event. It was based on a similar event done by one of the Edison’s community partners, EF (Education First).

Rather than feeding into fear, “we wanted to do more of the positive, the celebrating, and letting kids be proud.”

So, each classroom adopted a country that was represented by a student at the Edison.

“We did a survey to see where everyone is from. It ranged from Pakistan to Canada to Brazil.” One teacher chose Japan, another the United Arab Emirates. Sometimes teachers choose a country that many children in the classroom were from. In other cases, children learned about a new country. Then the classrooms became microcosms of their chosen country.

“We had this around-the-world event where students ‘traveled’ to each classroom. They had passports and they explored the Edison world.” Eighth graders escorted kindergarteners to the different countries. And students who sometimes had behavior issues participated happily.

“These kids went all out. In some classrooms, everyone dressed up, and brought food, and they were so proud to share that food, and talk about their culture and what the country is like.”

“The wanting to learn was really cool,” Riley says. “The whole vibe of the day was just pure happiness and excitement.”

This year, the plan is to make the event bigger and expand it to several days.

The multicultural event is a giant geography and culture lesson that builds on students’ strengths, engages English Language Learners, and promotes student and family engagement. The event also helps build a safe and supportive school community.

And it’s just one example of the kaleidoscopic work that City Connects’ site coordinators do as they learn about students’ lives and meet their needs. This can mean managing relationships with outside organizations to bring music, history, or dental checks into schools. It can also mean helping teachers, ensuring one child has a winter coat, or letting another child share his or ability to speak another language.

It’s all part of our mission to, “help children succeed and thrive—promoting their academic, social-emotional, and physical well-being – by connecting each student in a school with a tailored set of prevention, intervention and enrichment services in the community.”

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