A formidable figure dressed in weathered chaps, a cowboy hat, and carrying a toy horse saunters into the Aspen Community School common area to the unsuppressed giggles of students, parents and teachers. He somehow manages to hard-face the joyful crowd as he begins to lay out a compelling argument in a distinctive drawl for students and their families to join the Compass Community at the 6th annual Hoedown in just a few weeks.
Cowboy Jim (the principal in costume) is something of an icon at ACS All School Meetings, bringing joy to the room while sharing a “need to know” item with students in a weekly ritual shared by both Community Schools. Cowboy Jim serves as just one of many possible characters at either Aspen or Carbondale Community School that brings joy and connectedness to learning through our intentional weekly gathering.
Our schools love performance and we see them at our Meetings on a weekly basis. Our youngest students quickly become familiar and comfortable presenting their learning to a roomful of peers and teachers. As children move through our schools they develop a confidence and fearlessness in front of others that belies their age. Our schools provide both an intentional space and an ethos for the risk and reward of developing the courage to present and perform in front of others.
Our All School Meetings are more than just a feel-good weekly event. They also serve as a venue for us to come together to support one another during difficult times. Both of our school communities are grappling with the illness and loss of past and current community members. We have experienced painful times in the past few months and these meetings serve as a web that connects us as we move through the difficulties stronger and more resolute about our collective importance in each other’s lives.
All School Meetings are a core practice of our Community Schools. They are purposeful, fun and deeply connecting. Our faculty, students and parents join in the messiness of building and sustaining a community of lifelong learners. These meetings provide a consistent thread that runs through our community, balancing intention with spontaneity and fostering a certain magic.
Our schools were once an anomaly among public schools in gathering regularly, beyond the occasional school assembly, but many others have picked up on the importance of gathering as an educational practice. At a larger school it can be difficult to make a such a practice feel meaningful, but the size of our schools and the tradition of our practice makes the meetings, and the connectedness they provide, quite natural and obvious.
Our schools co-evolve with our communities. Through this evolution we maintain classical practices such as All School Meeting that help to shape and define our community. I wonder what this enduring practice will look like in five, ten, or 20 years and how it will continue to shape and define us.