Cherokee Elementary interest groups build connections, school culture

May 9—Once a week over the past few months, Cherokee Elementary School classrooms were transformed by unique "Interest Groups" into spaces for cooking, gymnastics, yoga, science projects, gardening, and more.

The Interest Groups at Cherokee Elementary had students from all grade levels coming together to learn new skills and take part in various activities for the first 30 to 45 minutes of the day once a week.

Sarah Jordan, a Cherokee Elementary teacher, said students picked their top three clubs, with the children then being placed in a group with 15 to 20 kids and two adults. Jordan was over the cooking club — a popular pick throughout the school. Cooking Club had three different branches the children rotated between.

"Cooking Cub is the only one where the students didn't stay the same. We have three groups so they are rotating us," Jordan said. "One cooking groups has done a tour of the cafeteria and made peanut butter and jellies, the other cooking club has done [leesons on] how to use a knife properly and cutting fruit, and we've done pizza quesadillas."

McCoy said mixing the grades together allowed for the students to build connections with other grade levels and teachers.

"Basically, the idea behind it was, number one, to introduce kids to new things, but number two was by mixing the [kindergarten through fifth grade] it allowed students to work with different age groups and have more people in their lives," Principal Marissa McCoy said.

Students were not placed in random groups, as students chose which club they wanted to participate in. Clubs offered to the students included the Lego Club, Science Club, Monster Truck Club, Cooking Club, Craft Club, Gymnastics Club, Yoga Club, and more.

Zoey Scott and Meadow Bradshaw, both fifth graders, were a part of the the Theater Club. Getting to act and memorizing lines was Zoey's favorite aspect of the club.

"It's fun. You get to experience new ways to act and you get to write scripts and I think it's really cool. You get to make new friends from other grades," Meadow said.

Meadow said she learned about the different types of acting from drama to comedy. Her favorite part has been making the scripts and acting them out.

"Every since I was a kid, I wanted to be an actress," Meadow said.

The clubs were not only teaching students different skills and building connections, but helping the older students develop leadership qualities. An example of this took place during the ukulele class. McCoy said the instructor for the club was running behind, leaving the staff member, who didn't know how to play the ukulele, in charge of the class. A fifth grader then decided to start teaching other students how to play a solo he was set to perform at a school event later that night, until the instructor made it to the club.

"Another cool thing we've seen happen since we've started doing this is the connection between littles and bigs, like kindergarten kids who see a fourth grader in the hallway and maybe they have been in the same cafeteria all year long, but because they were busy eating they didn't realize and now it's 'That's my friend,'" McCoy said.

McCoy said the elementary site has plans to continue the clubs next year with community members coming in to also teach special skills, such as taekwondo. The clubs will potentially start meeting weekly during the second quarter, with students participating in three groups throughout the year.