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What It Takes to Learn Your Way: A Sense of Community

Authored By: 
The Beekman School

This post is part of a series inspired by Dream School: NYC, a SundanceTV docu-series that follows 15 New York City teenagers who left high school and are now trying to get back on track to graduate. The Beekman School partnered with the show to help customize the learning experience for the students. Follow this blog to learn more and participate in the social media conversations using the hashtag #LearnYourWay

Inclusion: a word you may often hear as a goal for a variety of institutions (schools, private companies, government organizations) that strive to create welcoming and productive communities. Diversity is seen as key. But the road from diversity to inclusion can be a challenging one.

Diversity is a complex issue that blends a multitude of factors including ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, gender, language, religion, sexual orientation, geography, and personality (introverts vs. extraverts, for example). How do you bring together such a diverse group of individuals and form a community? For starters, help them relate to one another.

For the “Dream School: NYC” students, the common desire to change their story for better served as a foundation for them to bond and open up to one another. That was the case despite their very different cultural backgrounds or the different experiences that led them to stop attending school. They were all at the same crossroad, and the mentors and teachers were able to build on that moment and steer them in the right direction.

At The Beekman School, while our students have not dropped out of high school, many of them came to us because their previous school was not a good fit. Some felt resented for their ambitious goals, others felt overlooked, while others experienced excessive bullying just for being different. Take, for example, the student who was bullied out of his last school and came to us as a brooding artist who didn’t make friends easily.  Through our Student Council, he’s able to leverage his artistic talent in a way that earns the respect of his peers.

The absence of a sense of belonging can have a very negative impact on students’ growth and motivation. Our students know that first hand, and participation in a welcoming school environment is a priority for them. That is why, at Beekman, we have managed to maintain a positive and friendly environment while consistently welcoming new students through our rolling admissions policy.

What student wants to walk home alone at the end of the school day? Creating an environment where everyone can be validated for their skills and feel comfortable empowers them to Learn Their Way.

To learn more about why and how we got involved in the "Dream School: NYC” project, check out our earlier post: Learn Your Way: What it Takes to Build a Dream School