upper school students giving classroom presentationAfter several months of quiet and sometimes eerie peacefulness, the hallways and classrooms are abuzz with energy and joy this week. And so, it should be as the MPA family comes together again for a new school year. With 139 new students and an overall enrollment of 577, much of our time over the last week has been dedicated to building community and developing relationships with one another.

There are volumes of research demonstrating that when students feel like they belong, self-esteem, positive peer relationships, classroom engagement, academic achievement, positive attitudes toward school and learning, resilience, and many other positive attributes increase. One of those volumes collecting dust in the stacks of the University of St. Thomas Library is my own dissertation on the importance of creating a school culture that is grounded in relationships.

Late last week, I was drawn to a classroom by the laughter emanating from it. Rather than be concerned, I simply smiled, for I learned early in my career as a teacher and administrator that there is magic in a noisy classroom. What on the surface may seem a bit chaotic or messy can in reality be a very intentional experience with students engaged in their own education, building relationships, and learning collaboratively, in a robust and captivating place.

Fostering belonging in the school extends to adults as well. During our new employee orientation, small groups of new teachers and staff competed in an updated, tech savvy, scavenger hunt using the app, “GooseChase.” They were required to complete a series of challenges, such as snap a picture with our school founder, take a picture of the team playing with manipulatives in the Makerspace, pose with our fantastic custodial personnel, and other fun missions while getting to know one another, the school building, and learning the names of key personnel.

The MPA Parents Association hosted several events over the summer and a coffee on the first day of school to build relationships among parents. The gardens on campus grow more than vegetables, herbs, and flowers. They cultivate friendships among our parent community. MPA volunteer and gardener extraordinaire, Michelle Mick, has assembled a dedicated group of parents (a standing and open invitation to all parents) to join her in caring for the new garden. You may recall that on the first day of school, Michelle led parents on a walk through the school grounds.

At MPA, we recognize the critical importance of spending time early in the year building community. It is as important as teaching a particular lesson. Faculty and staff work together and prioritize creating a safe, joyful, and inclusive community and know that dedicating time at the beginning of the school year fostering genuine, caring relationships with students is essential to student success.

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