Got Democracy? Unity Does…

Written by Peter. Posted in Education

On this very day (Monday, March 19th 2012), we are honored to have Joe Biden, the Vice President of the United States, visit the beloved Morristown, in which our school resides.  We believe our politics are just as important as Joe’s politics.   Read and see how. – Editor Every day at Unity is living proof that a collaborative environment yields a productive participatory school community. As I greet the students and their families, on a first name basis each and every morning, it is an example of our philosophy about respectful relationships. The founders of Unity believed that Democratic Governance would be a pillar of the school.  Within that framework, one does not earn respect with a title such as Dr. or even Mr. and Mrs.  Rather, respect is earned with actions. Every member of Unity is valued and has a voice. Our school day begins with a student led morning meeting. This means that 180 students, 24 staff members and interested parents gather together in our multi-purpose room.  Compliments and acknowledgements are elicited from the students, staff, and parents.  For example, it is not uncommon for a Kindergarten student to compliment a parent volunteer for helping each day to set the lunch tables.  Elementary students may acknowledge a middle school student for assisting them the previous day with reading or getting on the bus.  This inclusive process sets a peaceful tone for the day. These daily meetings are also a mechanism to inform the community of important events or to share student projects. An inclusive model in an educational environment is an important and steadfast facet of Unity that holds true. Each member of the school is an integral stakeholder who is honored and genuinely listened to.  Democratic Governance (DG) is a thread that is woven throughout the school.  Beginning in each classroom, a sense of community is built with daily class meetings.  Here the students have the opportunity to again give compliments and acknowledgements, bring forth concerns, issues, share personal successes and plan class activities.  Discussions are derived from a written agenda and focus on solutions.  Just last week, a second grade student had an issue with another student at recess, stating the student was interfering with their football game.  He brought it up during class meeting.  After thoughtful discussion, the class decided to have better designated areas for organized activities during recess.  The teacher then shared the students’ solution with the staff at the weekly staff meeting and the arrangement for activities was honored and supervised by the teachers. Stemming from the class meetings, students also have the opportunity to bring forth issues and suggestions to the Student Council, which is comprised of two representatives from each class (K through 8).  For example, students wanted to be allowed to chew gum at school. The students wrote a proposal with guidelines and presented it to the school and the staff.  Each class and staff member had a vote… and the proposal passed.  No matter what the outcome, they learn important skills of investigation, gathering, organizing data and oral presentation skills.  The democratic process is always an amazing experience for students and adults as well. Another aspect of DG is our Assembly Meeting.  The Assembly meetings are held three times throughout the school year;  October, March, and June.  The October meeting focuses on Board Committees and strategic planning.  The school budget is the focus of the March Assembly and Board elections take place at the June Assembly.  Unity students age ten years and older, staff and families have the right to vote if they are present at the meeting. This participatory form of Democratic Governance is truly unique to Unity! As with district public schools, charter schools have a School Board. Unity has eleven Board Trustees. The Board meets twice per month. One meeting is The Committee of the Whole and is a working meeting; the second monthly meeting is a voting meeting. All Board meetings are open to the public and at Unity we encourage community participation in this important aspect of democratic governance. Every member of the Unity community truly has a voice and is both honored and respected for the valuable opinions and feedback they provide!   Carolyn Mungo for UnityCarolyn Mungo serves as the Director for the Unity Charter School.  With a yearning to incorporate her love and concern for the environment, she found Unity Charter School and was hired as a lower elementary school teacher in 2000.  Carolyn continued her passion for education and the importance of being a steward of the Earth, teaching for ten years at Unity before being promoted to the role of Director.  She received her Masters in Educational Leadership from Seton Hall University. A native of New Jersey, Carolyn grew up in Cedar Grove.  She has fond childhood memories of spending hours in the woods enjoying the natural environment and playing barefoot in the local streams.  This connection to the Earth eventually brought her to Unity! Carolyn is a firm believer of Walt Disney’s thought: The greatest resource of the world is the minds of the children!

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