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Building Classroom Community Starts with a WOW at Corbett Prep

classroom community

Kindergartners work together to fill buckets in teams, helping when one team’s bucket tipped.

First-day activities establish a classroom community of dignity and respect.

Aug. 25, 2016 (TAMPA, Fla.) – For Corbett Prep students, the mystery boxes, relays, model rocket launches, scavenger hunts and other activities are a fun way to start a new school year.

For teachers, these “WOW” moments serve a bigger purpose — building community.

All over campus on the first day of school, students in PreK3 through 8th grade participate enthusiastically in projects, challenges and games. While the atmosphere is celebratory, important work is occurring. Teachers design the first-day activities to establish a classroom community that supports learning in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.

“They started working together as a class, and they absolutely loved it,” said Ann Cashen, a teacher in the third and fourth grade multiage All Stars.

Cashen and co-teacher Hannah Loechner surprised students with a locked box from Breakout EDU and told them they had to work together to unlock it. Using critical thinking strategies and team collaboration, students solved puzzles and cracked codes to figure out how to open the five locks.

In the third-grade Navigators, students teamed up to build an 8-inch canoe that floated for three minutes. They tinkered with limited materials, tweaked designs and listened to one another’s ideas. Teacher Tracey Price credited the Upper Primary teachers who had them last year for preparing them so well to work cooperatively and creatively, even in a new class.

“They were able to work together, they were kind — it was incredible,” Price said.

Encouraging students to cooperate helps develop a positive classroom environment and shapes them as a cohesive group. Fifth grade makes teamwork a priority to prepare students for their roles as leaders for the younger students. Fifth graders have been divided among different classrooms for years, and students new to Corbett Prep have joined them as well. Following a Willy Wonka theme, the teachers arranged a series of challenges students had to complete to earn a “golden ticket” into the fifth-grade classroom suite known as the Penthouse.

Teachers also combine the team challenges with discussions of attitude. Kindergartners read Carol McCloud’s Have You Filled a Bucket Today? to spark conversation about what they can do for others and how to be “bucket fillers” who fill symbolic buckets with positive actions. The teachers reinforced the concept with a physical challenge, asking teams to fill buckets by soaking sponges. When one team accidentally tipped its bucket and lost all its water, teachers were impressed to see the other students pitch in to help their classmates begin again.

The faculty will build upon these lessons in the coming weeks and further develop the sense of community by writing classroom charters with the students. The charters set shared goals for each classroom, outlining how students want to feel as they learn and what everyone can do to create a supportive learning environment. It is part of RULER, a set of research-based strategies for social and emotional intelligence, developed at Yale University. Corbett Prep is working with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence to pilot additional ways to cultivate wellbeing at schools.

The positive tone of the first day gets the school year off to the right start, inspiring a love of learning while bringing students together. Jennifer Jagdmann, a co-division leader at the Middle School, said the students she met on the first day expressed a genuine joy and happiness to be at school: “Every child had a smile in his or her eyes.”


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Founded in 1968, Corbett Preparatory School of IDS (formerly Independent Day School - Corbett Campus) is a fully accredited, nonsectarian private school located in Tampa’s Carrollwood neighborhood. The school serves over 500 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and offers the International Baccalaureate program of study for all students. Teachers are endorsed in gifted education through a master’s level grant with the University of South Florida College of Education. Corbett Prep balances a dynamic, nurturing and safe learning environment with high standards and high expectations to develop a positive approach to life and learning. Corbett Prep has become recognized as an exemplary school with over 7,000 visitors observing and learning from Corbett Prep teachers. For more information, visit or contact the Admissions Office at (813) 961-3087.