Student Involvement Makes Sunita Williams Shine

March 7, 2024
• Collaboration, culture and community emerged as key priorities in the Sunita Williams Elementary School’s improvement plan.

Principal Kiana Brunson mapped out the ongoing work at the K-5 school, which about 530 students attend, to the School Committee Tuesday night.

For students and faculty, the past few years have been marked by change and transition with the pandemic, new school leadership and their new school building. That prompted administration to focus on the three C’s: collaboration, culture and community.

After analyzing school data, a group of instructional staff, administration and coaches found “thematic trends.”

“And with those trends, we recognized that deepening faculty collaboration around instructional practices, around social-emotional supports, were going to help our students thrive,” Brunson said.

Professional development also takes priority — learning walks and learning labs, opportunities organized by and for teachers to learn from one another, help create a stronger community among staff, Brunson said.

“We know with students that peer-to-peer learning is the greatest lever of impact,” Brunson said, “and that doesn’t change in our adult lives.”

Brunson said they’re also working on an “intentional bridging” of their special education and general education programming. Partnerships with families and the Parent Teacher Council help by “extending this classroom beyond the school doors,” she added.

Building student culture involves the school’s student council, composed of fourth and fifth graders.

The goal of the student council is to “help make the school better,” fifth grader Andrew said during the meeting. After noticing some students running through the halls at dismissal time, Andrew said they’ve instituted hall monitors, who reward walking students with a “paw,” a physical card for good behavior.

The students have also participated in spirit week before their February break and plan to do the same before their April break. A talent show is also in the works.

Across both grades, about 80% of students applied to join the council, Librarian and council co-lead Liz Hitron said.

“It’s been such a delight,” she said. “The kids are so excited to be part of it.”

For fifth grader and council member Ella, she wants to make a difference.

“I joined because I think that I could have made and can make good ideas to help the school and figure out ways that can help students grow and learn.”

Student leadership proves to be an incredible benefit for young learners, Brunson said.

“It helps build student choice and voice and agency, and that’s what we want to see in our young learners,” Brunson said, “so as they grow beyond elementary school, they’re able to push those same building blocks forward to make change and to be strong advocates.”

Their annual Festival of Cultures event celebrates “the wealth of diverse populations” within the school community, Brunson said, and the staff Sunshine Committee helps to bring smiles and support to staffers who may need it. Students also lead the morning announcements.

Sunita Williams herself visited the school Tuesday, speaking with students about her life as an NASA astronaut. She will launch to the International Space Station next month for her third trip into space.

Within their new building and environment, the students said their teachers take advantage of the pond and path behind the school for classes and creative outdoor lessons.

The transition to the school also impacted families, including parent and student council co-lead April Crawford, whose daughter previously attended Hillside Elementary School. Crawford said they worried about losing the strong community they previously had, but they’ve since found that sense of belonging at Sunita Williams.

“It’s been a joy watching my fifth grader feel like she is really a Wildcat now, and a Hornet is kind of a distant memory now,” Crawford said. “We’ve really embraced it.”

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