Structures of the S.A.S. Just Community
From its beginning, the A-School has functioned democratically through weekly community meetings in which everyone, students and staff, has one vote. Two students chair each meeting, organizing the discussions and votes. Community Meeting is the heart of the A-School, because it is the only time of the school week when the whole community sits down in one room to listen to each other’s perspectives. Topics at meetings are varied, ranging from decisions about school rules and activities to discussion of current national or world events, thought-provoking debates about ethical issues, or even games that help us get to know one another better.
Through our participation in Community Meeting, we learn to listen more deeply and more patiently and to consider thoughtfully points of view different from our own. Community Meeting also allows us to develop rules for the school which all members “own”, meaning abide by and help to enforce, because everyone has had a voice in their establishment.
Each week there is an Agenda Meeting to determine the topics to be discussed at the next Community Meeting. Any member of the community can attend Agenda. At a minimum, two representatives from each Core Group are supposed to be there so that concerns or issues that have arisen in any of the groups can be brought to the larger community. Agenda Meeting is chaired by the two students who have been selected to lead the upcoming Community Meeting.
Core Group and Advisory:
Each A-School teacher has a Core Group of approximately sixteen students. Students are randomly assigned to groups when they enter the A-School as tenth graders, but they can request a switch to a different group in subsequent years if they so desire. Core Groups gather once a week at lunch time at the home of a member of the group. During the approximately hour-long meeting, students eat together, raise personal dilemmas to receive advice and support from the group, discuss matters of concern to the community, play games or engage in other activities to bring them closer together.
Core Group plays an important role in creating a strong sense of community in the A-School. It has the following goals:
- To be a safe place where individuals can address personal issues
- To allow discussion of community-wide issues in a forum where more voices can be heard than there is time for during the 90-person Community Meeting
- To provide an opportunity for students to practice effective group skills
- To create a sort of small-group “family” for each student, upon which each individual knows he or she can rely for support
Teachers periodically meet with each member of their Core Groups individually. In these Advisory Meetings, advisors and advisees can talk about anything of interest or concern to them both. Advisory relationships often become very close over the course of a student’s time in the A-School. At A-School graduation, which is a special ceremony attended by A-School students in addition to high school graduation, each senior receives a personal speech given by his advisor.
The purpose of this student-led committee is to deal with violations of rules and norms within the community, giving students ownership over the disciplinary process. Fairness Committee is also designed to enhance the perspective-taking skills of school community members participating in its deliberations.
Any student or teacher may bring any other community member to Fairness for violating school rules or norms. The committee is chaired by a trained student leader and is made up of one teacher and six students. The Fairness process, which includes clarifying questions, probing questions, and discussion, is designed to help the student (or teacher!) who has been brought to the committee to reconsider his or her choices and how those choices have affected the larger community. The committee then votes on “determinations” that the person brought to Fairness must fulfill. In some instances, the committee may decide that no violation has occurred, and therefore will assign no determinations.
Determinations may be intended to achieve any of the following goals:
- restorative justice, intended to make up for a harm done to the community
- helping the student or teacher brought to Fairness to change his or her behavior
- helping the student or teacher achieve a deeper understanding of the implications of his or her choices
- improving communication and understanding between community members