Communitas: The Gift of Coming Together

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By Lark P. Palma, PhD, Head of School

From the Spring 2010 Caller

What is a community? It’s undoubtedly different for every person, and each of us may have many different intersecting or distinct communities in our lives. A school community, like the one we have here at Catlin Gabel, distinguishes itself because in the process of education we explicitly teach children how to become good members of their society and their world, and we model behavior constantly for them. We show our students that we are always there for them, and that they are surrounded by caring adults who are ready to catch them if they fall, both literally and metaphorically. Students who have been at Catlin Gabel for any length of time feel that this school community, in which they have been immersed for hours every weekday, and maybe even evenings and weekends, is an enormous part of their lives.

 
We are fortunate to have the sense of connectedness and formation of social networks here at Catlin Gabel that we do. Grade-level friendships among parents and children, sports team affiliations, interactions among divisions of the school, and extracurricular and other groups help weave the complex whole that is our school. So many different kinds of people make up this entity—from facilities workers to fundraisers, to teachers and students of all ages, and families of all backgrounds— that building community takes time, empathy, and trust.
 
Scott Peck, in his work The Different Drum, offers some useful ideas on how to think about community. He asserts that when people are able to move beyond fear of controversy or revealing of strong opinions and talk frankly with each other, greater community can occur. Sometimes these processes are difficult, even painful, but, as Peck says, at the end of the process true community can exist.
 
True community comes to fruition when we are each able to speak our truth about our feelings and ideas, when we are able to listen to and appreciate one another, and are able to subsume our own personal desires to the higher, social good. We endeavor to teach our students to be humane and open to others’ needs, that sometimes the needs of a few spotlight important issues that need to be addressed, that any community needs to order itself through its guidelines, and that often the needs of the community must trump the needs of the individual. That is why the notion of community is so complex and elusive. Good community is like good communication: you know it when you really have it, but sometimes the journey to that point is long and uneasy.
 
We struggle along on that journey together, for good and bad, old and young, and share our deepest selves in the process. All of the stories in this issue of the Caller explore this notion of community and offer wonderful examples of how we try to live true community every day. How can we not be successful with all of this effort?
 
Enjoy this issue of the Caller, and please accept an opportunity to come to one of the many events that secure true community here. It’s wonderful to join together and see how our children learn to be part of a greater whole.