Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men, Englewood Campus, an all-black, all-male, 9-12, Title I school in Chicago, Illinois, begins every day with Community, a 30-minute, schoolwide assembly. Community allows educators to check in with their students and transition them into a mindset ready for learning. These daily assemblies not only ground the students but also celebrate and empower them, as well as deepen their connections with teachers and fellow students.
"Community is the most sacred ritual that we have because it is the most personal," explains Dion Steele, Urban Prep, Englewood Campus' principal. "Community is our daily ritual. We're able to see one another's faces every day, and we're able to come together as a family."
Each community assembly consists of key elements and a format that are consistent every day:
Drum Call: Community begins promptly at 8:30 a.m. It starts with a drum call signifying that it's time for students to line up in their small groups.
Chant: Students chant together, reiterating the importance of being present for Community, as well as being present and punctual throughout life: "To be on time is to be early, and to be early is to be on time. It's easy to be ordinary, but it takes courage to excel. Excel we must. To be on time."
Formal Greeting: The principal greets the students each morning, welcoming them to school.
Check In and Show Your Brother Some Love: Teachers and students take five minutes to check in with one another. This is an open time for teachers to check on how students are, whether they’ve eaten breakfast that morning, whether they need their clothes fixed, and how they are doing emotionally. After checking in with one another, they play music for five minutes, and everyone dances, hugs, and greets each other, “showing their brothers some love.”
Student Recognition or Presentations: At least three days a week, students are either recognized for their academic and behavioral successes, or they present to their school by sharing their talents. The idea is that these young men should be publically celebrated for growth and accomplishments.
Administration Announcements: The principal and vice principal share the day's agenda and any important announcements.
Recite the Urban Prep Creed: Community ends with a group recitation of the Urban Prep creed, a statement outlining their values, which helps transform the students' beliefs and self-perception.
Dismissal: The principal dismisses the groups one at a time, and they transition to class.
Know the Needs of Your Community
When creating school rituals such as a morning assembly, Steele emphasizes the importance of having insight into the needs of your particular community. "In any environment like Urban Prep, the sense of belonging is critical," says Steele.
The more you understand your students' experiences, the better prepared you are to meet their academic and social-emotional needs. “Our kids are starved for positive attention," says Tim King, founder and CEO of Urban Prep Academies. By celebrating their students during Community, the school assures that students are positively recognized schoolwide by their peers. "They stand in front of their entire school and are applauded and recognized," adds King. “It transforms their mentality when we focus on their assets instead of the deficits that society so often focuses on when it comes to young black males.”
Create Symbolic Rituals
Create a ritual unique to your school that makes your students feel a part of something special, recommends King. This can be a regular event, like a morning assembly, or it can be using artifacts and symbols that students identify with.
Urban prep students wear a jacket with the Urban Prep crest. They also wear red ties every day, gold ties when they're being celebrated for weekly achievements, and striped gold and red ties when they are accepted to their first college. All of these things allow for a sense of identification and belonging with others at Urban Prep, fostering a strong community among students and teachers.
Steele suggests other ways to create rituals through symbols:
- Students can wear a patch or pin.
- Students can wear their school color every day, or have one designated day as school color day.
Create a School Creed
At Urban Prep, the students recite their school creed every morning. This is like an affirmation, a daily ritual that helps inform their students' self-perception: that they're college bound, hard workers, and responsible to their families, community, and world.
Urban Prep's creed was created by 12 of their teachers and administrators. When creating your school creed, King suggests forming a group of staff and discussing the values that you want your students to embody. Ask yourself:
- What core values do you want your students to take away when they leave your school?
- What do you want your students to believe?
Integrate those answers into your school creed.
Reciting your school creed is something that can be adapted to the classroom, recommends Lionel Allen, Urban Prep Academies' chief academic officer. You can recite the school creed with your students during homeroom, or the entire school can recite the school creed together, class by class, by having someone voice it over the intercom.
When Urban Prep students recite the creed, Steele emphasizes the importance of them saying it clearly -- from their chests -- and saying it in unison. Saying it in unison enhances the collective spirit among them, and saying it clearly "reaffirms the core values that we want them to demonstrate every day."
Urban Prep School Creed
We are the young men of Urban Prep.
We are college bound.
We are exceptional -- not because we say it, but because we work hard at it.
We will not falter in the face of any obstacle placed before us.
We are dedicated, committed, and focused.
We never succumb to mediocrity, uncertainty, or fear.
We never fail because we never give up.
We make no excuses.
We choose to live honestly, nonviolently, and honorably.
We respect ourselves and, in doing so, respect all people.
We have a future for which we are accountable.
We have a responsibility to our families, community, and world.
We are our brothers' keepers.
We believe in ourselves.
We believe in each other.
We believe in Urban Prep.
Celebrate Your Students
"A lot of our young men come to us feeling beat down, demoralized, and disenfranchised from the educational process," explains Allen. "Community gives us an opportunity to build these young men up every single day."
At least three times a week during Community, school leaders recognize Students of the Week. Teachers track their students’ academic and behavioral achievements or growth, and they nominate deserving students to Principal Steele by 11:59 p.m. each Sunday night. During Community, each Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, Steele calls the name of each student being honored and awards them with a gold tie that they will wear for one week in lieu of the standard-issue red tie.
Reasons for a Student of the Week honor might include:
- Turning in a great essay
- Showing academic growth
- Modeling great citizenship (such as turning in a lost wallet)
Other ways to celebrate students during Community might include:
- Highlighting students who have shown the most improvement or received the highest scores
- Celebrating students who have been accepted to college, honoring them with a gold-and-red-striped tie
Urban Prep emphasizes non-athletic achievements to break the stereotype that black males can only succeed in athletics or entertainment. They're broadening students’ awareness of the different ways in which they can be successful.
Greet Your Students and Have Them Greet Each Other
Every day, during Check-In/Show Your Brother Some Love, Urban Prep students dance, hug, and greet each other, as well as hug and greet teachers and administrators. Students are able to interact with their teachers in a more informal way. "It gives a different type of feel to the connection between student and teacher," says Gregory Sashington, an Urban Prep, Englewood Campus Pride leader, alumni, and assistant dean. Show Your Brother Some Love redefines what is appropriate and acceptable when interacting with other men. It's OK to be open, to hug, and to celebrate each other.
"Just getting to cooperate with people and seeing them every day and shaking their hands, I start to get like, 'Hey, I know this guy. I can probably talk to him in the future,'" says Quintin, a tenth-grade Urban Prep, Englewood Campus student.
Adapt Community to Fit Your School
There are different ways to adapt Community:
- Instead of daily assemblies, try weekly or monthly assemblies.
- Adopt morning meetings in your classroom.
- Choose aspects of Community, like creating a school creed, creating symbolic rituals, and celebrating your students.
At Symonds Elementary School in Keene, New Hampshire, teachers start the first 20 to 25 minutes of each class to check in with their students using the structure of morning meetings: greeting, sharing, activity, and morning message. Once a week, instead of morning meetings, they hold a schoolwide assembly, similar to Urban Prep.
What aspects of Community would work best for your students' needs?