03/29/2010
My Voice My Community
Room 218 explores “exclusivity” – in theory and practice

Mc Call students experience recess in a new way

“She makes me laugh when I don’t feel good,” says Alexandria Jones of Katrina Cheng. “And I found out she’s shy, just like me.”

Katrina and Alexandria have been going to the McCall School for six years, ever since they were in Kindergarten. But until this year, they never really knew each other. Never even talked.

All that’s changed this year as a result of Room 218’s service-learning project on “exclusion” – a topic that has both fans and detractors.

The topic evolved out of a classroom discussion with their teacher Ms. Bottaro.

“It must have been a Tuesday,” she recalls. “First the boys approached me after recess. One was crying about being left out in kickball. Two days later, it was the girls. One clique of girls was told by another that they were a group and there was no room for outsiders.”

Ms. Bottaro confronted the students with this problem in a class discussion and suggested “exclusivity” might be a good focus for their project. “Now my class really owns this topic,” she says.

She came up with a system for breaking the class down into “recess groups” based on things students identify as having in common, such as “favorite sport,” “favorite after-school activity” and “favorite subject in school.”

Each week she creates a Venn diagram for everyone to see. Ms. Bottaro chooses recess groups by putting together students who have common preferences. Then on the two days a week when the program goes into effect, students can only play and have lunch with those in their group.

As an extension, Ms. Bottaro asked each student to choose a research topic and in it describe how the people affected by the topic are marginalized or excluded by others based on their differences. Examples include people who are blind, obese, homeless, old, wheelchair-bound, too tall, too short.

The students then wrote poems to express the frustration someone who is excluded based on this difference might feel.

In reflecting on recess groups, not all students are of the same mind.

“It’s hard sometimes,” says Sallie Jackson. “We have our own little groups and then all of a sudden. . . .”

Liam has a stronger opinion. “Every student in the class hates it,” he says. “There might even be a riot,” he adds drolly.

But talk with Katrina and Alexandria and you get a different picture.

“She’s smart in math,” says Katrina of Alexandria, “and she helps me with my homework.”

“We call each other on the phone and help each other with school work,” says Alexandria. “I am happy because I can have fun with someone I didn’t really know before.”

She seems to grasp the larger point of the project.

“It’s not just about our class,” says Alexandria. “It’s about how people are excluded in the world.”