Pleasant Ridge Montessori faculty, students, parents and families gathered on school grounds Tuesday, Sept. 12, to put their hands around the school—actually around the school. Parents and students, many with siblings in tow, checked in at the front of the school to be assigned to an area of the school grounds to meet up and get acquainted with families of fellow classmates. It wasn’t “just” a Back-to-School event. For some families of Pleasant Ridge Montessori, it was a “get-to-know” event.
“Our school community is very representative of the larger CPS community. Our neighborhood is very diverse and made up of all kinds of people,” said PRM Principal Jenny Mauch.
Mauch and fellow faculty and staff dug into data collection efforts last school year to understand what made people feel so connected to the school.
“The overwhelming answer was ‘word of mouth,’” Mauch said. “We asked what it was that made parents feel disconnected from the school, and many people said they didn’t know anybody. So there was our task: to get everybody to come out for their kids, form authentic relationships and get to know each other.”
One of the ways families could get to know each other was through a beach ball. Staff wrote questions on the beach ball, such as “What was something that made you happy today?” and “What do you love about PRM?” for families and students to answer as it got tossed around the circle. Someone attached a camera to a drone to capture the magnitude of attendance at the event, as the entire perimeter of the school was “hugged” by the crowd.
After spending part of the beautiful evening outside, students could play games and watch the “Kids on the Block” puppet show in the gym while Mauch led a presentation for the parents discussing the school’s goals for that year, the complexity behind the State Report Card, and how they can continuously improve the experience of students while remaining true to the Montessori method.
The chance to “reset” at the beginning of the school year helped parents internalize the uniqueness of Pleasant Ridge Montessori as a public urban neighborhood school.