Steward’s annual Community Week offers Middle School students experiences beyond the traditional classroom. During this year’s Community Week, which took place September 18-22, students spent time in nature, collaborated in team-building activities, engaged in service-learning and leadership activities, and discovered new things about themselves and the world around them.
“Middle School Community Week gives students opportunities to get to know their classmates and teachers better, test themselves during ‘challenge-by-choice activities,’ and create lifelong memories,” said Middle School Director Susan Atkinson.
To start off the week, sixth graders
gathered for a restorative circle: a reflective opportunity to learn about the importance of teamwork and community building. Then they headed outside to enjoy a rousing game of musical chairs on the Wilton Lawn. Led by Middle School Social Studies Teacher Craig Redmond-Cilley, the students giggled, running from chair to chair as the music started and stopped.
In the Bryan Innovation Lab
, sixth graders took part in design-thinking activities, collaborating to brainstorm about the qualities that make good communities and strong friendships. Under the guidance of Middle School Science Teacher Claire Bailey
, students learned how to construct questions for an “empathy interview,” which had them generating questions such as: What would an equitable, inclusive community look like? How might we design it?
“They also discussed what they would want in their community,” noted Ms. Bailey. “Then they asked their questions to other members of their group in a ‘speed-dating’ style. From those answers, they designed and built inclusive communities.”
A small group of Upper School Leadership Program
students organized and led a workshop for the sixth grade during Community Week on topics related to leadership development. Students worked through stations with activities on different leadership types, identifying their strengths and areas of growth, ethics, and teamwork.
“It was wonderful to see the older students working directly with the sixth graders,” said Eliza McGehee, who coordinates the Leadership Program. “Not only were the Upper School students able to practice and hone their leadership skills, but they also built relationships and shared what they’ve learned with other Steward students.”
At the University of Richmond, sixth graders had a chance to learn the ropes – literally and figuratively – when they participated in a variety of challenges on the U of R fields and high ropes course.
Ty Nguyen ’30 said his favorite part of Community Week was the ropes course. “It helped with my bravery,” he said. “Plus, we did it as a community and helped each other out to complete the course.”
Back on campus, our sixth graders engaged in a day of service led by Middle School English Teacher Shannon Elsea.
“For the larger community, their work focused on Housing Families First, a local organization that provides necessities and temporary housing,” explained Ms. Elsea. “They decorated and filled buckets with cleaning supplies that will help families with a fresh start. They also packed hundreds of snack bags.” For the Steward community, groups made treat mugs for the maintenance, housekeeping, and food service teams. Putting their hearts into art, they also painted rocks with words of encouragement to place around campus. Finally, they created a bin of fidget tools for every Middle School classroom teacher. They ended the day serving themselves … with an ice cream sundae party!
Service, Nature, and Field Trips
started off the week with a service activity led by Middle School Social Studies Teacher and Service Learning Liaison Wallace Inge
and Director of Dining Services Anne Maury Haapala
“The most important aspect of a community is caring for others,” said Mr. Inge. “Our seventh graders opened up their Community Week by putting others first and spent time making and delivering lunches for Safe Haven through the Daily Planet’s Breaking Bread program.” Safe Haven offers transitional housing to individuals suffering from severe mental illness and chronic homelessness.
An overnight trip to Triple C Camp in Charlottesville, Va. was an opportunity for students to “unplug” and enjoy outdoor adventures, including a climbing wall, a zip line, a night hike, teambuilding skits, and, of course, s’mores. The week also included field trips to Maymont and the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.
Aaliyah Ladak ’29 said, “I especially enjoyed the museum … it was really nice after a week of other fun activities to just slow down a bit.” The museum’s immersive exhibition, which highlights Virginia’s role in the U.S. space program, was “super cool and fascinating,” she said. A challenging but exhilarating activity for Aaliyah was the nighttime hike at Triple C Camp. “We walked down to a trail opening through the woods,” she said. “It was pitch black and I could only see the person in front of me!”
Into the Wilderness
At Wilderness Adventure in the Blue Ridge mountains, eighth graders
enjoyed a technology-free week filled with outdoor and indoor fun. They tackled a ropes course, reached new heights on a climbing wall, and tested their teamwork when canoeing. They also explored new terrain with mountain biking and enjoyed the wonders of caving. In the evenings, campers met in activity groups to debrief the day and then played cards and board games while munching on popcorn to end the day.
“All of our Middle Schoolers enjoyed a week filled with activities both challenging and rewarding,” noted Ms. Atkinson. “Middle School Community Week helps students build self-confidence and leadership skills … plus, it’s really fun!”View the Steward Snaps from Middle School Community Week.