What is your favorite food? Do you cheer for a sports team? Where’s your favorite place in Baltimore?
These were some of the questions 1st graders at the Redeemer Parish Day School (Redeemer) and Govans Elementary School (Govans) answered last fall as part of a collaborative project called “Hi, Neighbor.” The project’s goal is to build community. And, despite the pandemic, teachers have found creative ways to bring their students together.
“Govans Elementary and Redeemer are just a mile apart,” explains Mary Knott, director of Redeemer’s small, inclusive Episcopal school. “We want to get to know our neighbors better.”
To kick things off, each student in both schools created a “Hi, Neighbor” poster with words and drawings describing their interests, such as pizza and the Ravens. Teachers matched students with a buddy from the other school and the two exchanged posters.
“Our kids really enjoyed coming up with a favorite place in Baltimore,” says Maggie Nemeth, a 1st grade teacher at Govans. “Many picked places in their own backyards, like Grandma’s house.”
The day Nemeth handed out posters from Redeemer, her students were filled with anticipation. “They were so excited to learn who their buddies were,” she says.
Her class created a video tour of their brand-new school building for their Redeemer buddies, “revealing all the cool spots.”
Both schools are hoping for an outdoor play date this spring. “Posters and videos are great, but we would like to be together in person,” says Erin Hoover, who teaches 1st grade at Redeemer.
“The kids have quickly learned that although they may look different or come from different backgrounds, they have so many things in common,” she adds.
One of Hoover’s students wants to be a doctor, as does his Govans buddy. “What if they are in medical school together one day?” wonders Knott. “Ideally, we could build relationships now that could possibly last a lifetime.”
“Hi, Neighbor” is part of a child-centered partnership between the two schools that could deepen as Redeemer adds elementary grades.
Last fall, Redeemer welcomed 16 1st graders, expanding the school’s program beyond preschool, kindergarten and pre-1st. Second graders will arrive next fall, followed by 3rd graders in 2023.
The decision to add elementary grades and to form a partnership with Govans followed a period of reflection and discussions with experts in early childhood education.
“The process clarified who we uniquely are, what we value, and why now might be the right time to grow,” the Reverend David Ware of the Church of the Redeemer told the parish last year. “We are educating children to be curious, confident learners who discover each person’s unique worth and beauty.”
Sandi McFadden, Strong City Baltimore’s community school coordinator for Govans, believes that “Hi, Neighbor” deserves to be nurtured and possibly expanded.
“Children of different backgrounds need to get to know one another,” McFadden says. “And this program creates opportunities for authentic exchanges between diverse groups of children who see each other, first and foremost, as kids.”
The Redeemer Parish Day School is a small, inclusive Episcopal school that welcomes diverse families from different religious, cultural and economic backgrounds. An extended-day program runs until 5:30 pm.
Editor’s Note: This article is sponsored by Redeemer Parish Day School and was written by Ted Winstead. Photos were supplied by the school. To learn more about Redeemer Parish Day School, visit their website: redeemerpds.org.