At Parkside School, all 500 students in grades 4-8 gather together once a month for 30 minutes to greet each other, share, join in a lively activity, and celebrate successes.

Why did you decide to hold school-wide meetings?
We have some younger students here-students in fourth and fifth grades-with our middle school students. We wanted to build community among all our learners and offer leadership opportunities for students. We were aiming for regular, successful interactions across grade levels. We decided to create an all-school gathering using components from the Developmental Designs Circle of Power and Respect meeting structure that is already successful in classrooms. We made sure to address students’ needs for developing competence and autonomy, as well as for building relationships and having fun during each gathering.

Who plans each meeting?
The responsibility rotates. The planning group, which includes three advisory groups and their teachers, meets once a week at a regular time. We often have 10-year-olds working with 14-year-olds in the planning process. Staff facilitate as students develop ideas. Students run the school-wide meetings, and teachers manage the movement of the 500 participants. Because each meeting is different, there’s always an element of surprise that awaits the student body. At the end of each meeting, we pull names from a hat and announce who will be planning the next one. There is a great deal of excitement around this moment!

Do you always have a theme?
The planning group develops a theme that guides the greeting, sharing, and activity. The themes are often based on the seasons, and sometimes are holiday- or culturally-oriented, or they’re connected to the activities that have been planned. Some examples include a homecoming theme, when students dressed up and shared about what they liked best about homecoming week, and a winter theme, with “snowball” acknowledgments and a fake snowball fight. Meeting around a Thanksgiving theme last year, we greeted one another with a real-life turkey call, shared our favorite part of this holiday, and had great fun with a game of human bingo called “Gobbler.”

Having fun is a top priority. We’ve been doing the meetings for two years now, and they’ve been getting better and better ever since the students took on leadership roles. Our results show us that when you meet student needs for autonomy, competence, relationship, and fun, things usually turn out great.

What happens during a meeting?
With everyone gathered, we start by greeting each other. Then we have a sharing session, and then a large-group activity. Each meeting culminates with acknowledgments of individual students who have consistently demonstrated strong character traits-such as responsibility, leadership, determination, respect, or communication-and who have achieve goals set for themselves.

In our goal-setting process, students are invited to check in on the goals they’ve made for themselves at least two times a month during advisory. They report all goals met to their advisor with evidence that supports their claim. Teachers share qualifying students’ names with the principal, who leads the acknowledgment in the school-wide meeting. All who have been acknowledged stand for group recognition from their peers and the staff in the form of a hearty clap or chant. There’s nothing quite like having 500 peers in mass giving an acknowledgment!

What are some of the activities or games you play?
The games are suited to the large, diverse group. So far, they have included doing the limbo, an obstacle course, and a conga line that extended inside and outside the school. The activities are fun and cooperative in nature, and they almost always involve music. Even though the activities are usually simple, students and staff really enjoy meeting together as a whole school once a month and having fun. Every student chooses to participate. Everyone is engaged.

What results have you had?
During the meetings, students by and large follow the school-wide rules; respect and good sportsmanship abound! Students look forward to the opportunity to display their growing responsibility by planning and implementing the school-wide meeting, and there’s great excitement among those who have been assigned this task. Students get a great deal of satisfaction from the public recognition they receive for goals accomplished. The number of students honored for meeting a goal has remained steady or increased each month this year. We expect between 150 and 200 students to be acknowledged at our next meeting. This mechanism helps keep goals alive.

Were there any obstacles to overcome?
Not really. Each month those chosen to plan the meeting challenge themselves to think creatively and plan a fun, interactive experience for all students and staff. It’s not easy to meet the needs of 500 students, but so far each planning group has risen to the occasion. It’s been very important to allow the students to be in charge and for the staff to have as much fun as the students. And, by limiting the meetings to monthly, each one feels fresh and new, and all are eager to be together.