Baby steps for fifth graders, giant ones for ICS

Ten ICS fifth graders put their feet on the starting line, took a deep breath and sprinted, yelling across the lawn at Stone Mountain Park. The race - no breathing allowed - was on. When a breath was needed, a runner had to stop where he or she was, end of contest for that person.

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[Today's blog is by Pam Zendt, ICS media specialist.]

Ten ICS fifth graders put their feet on the starting line, took a deep breath and sprinted, yelling across the lawn at Stone Mountain Park. The race - no breathing allowed - was on. When a breath was needed, a runner had to stop where he or she was, end of contest for that person.

It was part of a team-building program that the Outward Bound-Atlanta folks introduced to 60 ICS fifth-graders recently.

It all put me in mind of the steps - small and large, easy and hard-won - that the ICS community takes every day toward it's vision.

"Our school's vision is all about building community," teacher Claire Hamilton said, as she cast an appraising gaze at the 10- and 11-year-olds scattered around the grassy field. "We are successful when we move in that direction creatively, and at times, outside the walls of the traditional classroom."

Student Sebrina Shelton, one of the raucous runners in the running-and-screaming game, summed up the progress made during the morning simply: "Our group cheered each other on. We don't always do that."

That kind of support and drive to create community is part of what ICS is all about. The school's vision speaks of a "supportive community and learning from each other and building and nurturing the Beloved Community Dr. Martin Luther King worked for."

We like to think that we're taking baby steps toward this vision every school day. Some days, like the Outward Bound team-building day, the steps are just bigger than others.

"We played games here today, but we have a message too. For example, today I moved from group to group," said Robert Green, Outward Bound-Atlanta team leader. "Each time I moved to another group of students, I thanked them for inviting me in and for making me feel welcome. That's one way we start talking about creating a safe space. It is especially important with diverse groups like these."

The games and activities allowed the students to be a supportive community, not just talk about it. Words like "challenge," "pay attention," "be patient," and "listen" echoed across the field during events like the breathless run, "Fire Hydrant, Dog and Car" (think rock-paper-scissor), and Move-that-Hula-Hoop." Thoughts like "we got better" and "it was hard at first" and "I'll try something new next time" were shared. All of these ideas were coming from the mouths of the youngsters themselves, and they sounded sincere.

Teachers stood quietly in the background, observing, and no doubt praying, that the lessons would stick.

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