Building good relationships between Quaker Meetings and Friends Schools requires most of all, opportunities for these communities to interact. Greene Street Friends School has a wonderful program that aims to build the kind of relationships both groups have come to cherish.
For the last three years the children at Greene Street have had the opportunity to become closer with members of the Monthly Meeting through a program called “Morning With a Friend.” This annual event invites meeting members to come and spend a morning in classrooms, visiting with children and attending the school’s Meeting for Worship. However, this was not a program that came to be naturally out of years of interaction, rather, like most good relationships, it required intentionality.
Wilson Felter, Associate Head of School, shared that having meeting members as parents and board members helped to create a feedback loop that fueled this process. With their parent hats on, Green Street Meeting members shared their excitement with fellow members about programs their children were experiencing at the school, and realized that there was great opportunity to share more. When they gave this feedback to the school’s leadership, the meeting and the school arranged Sunday presentations given by administrators or faculty members to the Sunday meeting attenders. While these presentations proved informative, participants soon realized something was missing from this process, the light of the children. Realizing that the root of good relationships came from human interaction, Greene Street Friends decided to invite meeting members to school to spend a morning with their students.
The beginning of this program did not come without reservations. Some were wary that students would not find meeting members interesting and engaging, that meeting members would be critical of the schools programs, or that the meeting members would be anxious about stepping into a classroom of 18-20 children. These trepidations quickly dissipated after the first event in April of 2011.
Meeting members have come to appreciate the bonds that they have created with students and faculty at Green Street and often engage in conversations with members of the school community when walking through campus. The teachers at Greene Street Friends have also come to appreciate having Quakers on hand to help place their religious education studies into a more meaningful context. “It is one thing to teach Quaker history which the school does well, it is another to have students interact with real Quakers” Felter commented.
This relationship has not only realized the goal of bringing together two communities, it has also created learning opportunities for students to ask Quakers about their beliefs and religious journeys. It was not just the students who had wisdom to gain from the Friends visiting; many Quakers also left the school that day feeling enlightened. Many Friends attending meeting on Sundays know the feeling of quiet despair that comes with seeing a dwindling number of children gracing our places of worship. Providing meeting members with an opportunity to worship in the presence of children is a gift much greater then simply learning about the programs at your local Friends School.
As mentioned earlier, this program did not fall together. Rather, it was the product of much intentionality and support. Wilson commented that having the leadership and support of several meeting members was essential in organizing and recruiting volunteers. Teachers also committed time working with volunteers to help them better understand the students and classroom dynamics as well as preparing their students for the Meeting members that would be visiting. Wilson’s advice for schools and meetings looking to start similar programs is simply “Make time to get it done. It will be a homerun for continuing to build your Meeting-School relationship.”
This story is by Louis Herbst, the Social Studies and 6th Grade Math teacher at United Friends School as well as the Athletic Director, After School Director and Summer Camp Director. Louis’ Action Research Summary will be available for viewing on the Friends Council on Education website in May 2013. View previous action research projects, on the FCE website.