School Spotlight: Harambee Elementary School
By Eleanor Purdy
“We are a community that is learning together,” says Principal Kathryn Griebel about her school, Harambee Elementary. “We create an environment where it’s okay to take risks and be vulnerable. And Dancing Classrooms is a good metaphor for what we’re trying to do.”
Harambee Elementary is a small, year-round magnet school located in Maplewood. Serving grades Pre-K through 6, it attracts families from Roseville, Saint Paul and surrounding suburbs. Harambee will participate in its second Dancing Classrooms residency this spring, and its students and staff are already looking forward to the experience.
This year’s sixth graders, who participated in Dancing Classrooms last spring, are now blossoming into leadership roles at school. Some of their duties include helping with morning announcements, safety patrol and kindergarten snack time. “It’s so delightful to watch the sixth graders grow as leaders this year, and a lot of that is due to the connections they made together through Dancing Classrooms,” Principal Griebel observes. “This is the first year that [the incoming sixth graders] are ready and excited to be positive role models. Of course, there are still the usual social conflicts, but they seem more equipped to work through it than other groups.”
Recently, the sixth graders shared a special moment of community-building through dance, made possible by their Dancing Classrooms experience six months ago. During a classroom celebration of Day of the Dead, the students’ teacher played a merengue song. She knew that the merengue was a dance they had learned during last year’s residency. “Who knows what country the merengue is from?” she asked. Everyone remembered! And when the music started, after a brief moment of hesitation, the whole class suddenly broke into the merengue dance. “It was so spontaneous and joyful,” Principal Griebel recalls happily. “The kids were teaching kids who weren’t there last year. They found this way to connect and share.”
Watching the transformation of the sixth graders is what cemented Principal Griebel’s decision to participate in a second year of Dancing Classrooms. “I want to give that experience to another group of kids,” she says. And like so many of her fellow educators, she values the Social and Emotional Learning opportunities that the program provides: “This is one program that addresses the needs of the whole child. It’s about so much more than learning the dances. It’s about doing something you didn’t think you could. It’s about how to be in partnership with someone, and have respect and accountability to each other. It’s the lessons they learn about themselves.”