Polton Den Circles encourage dialogue and build relationships
The students in Heidi Parkhurst’s fifth-grade class at Polton Elementary School started their class on Sept. 10 with a communal check-in.
They sat in a circle with their teacher, and kicked off their day by summing up their feelings in the form of a color.
“I’m feeling blue, because I’m a little tired,” one student said.
“I’m blue because I’m calm like the ocean,” another offered.
“I’m pink and purple because I’m really happy,” another student declared with a beaming smile.
From there, the group discussed their feelings, offered updates about their daily lives and spoke on the theme of “achievement” – one fifth-grader praised her father for his perseverance and hard work. Finally, the group offered compliments to each other; each student took a turn praising their peers and their community.
“I want to compliment all of you,” one student said. “You’re so nice. You’re actually the greatest class.”
These discussions weren’t unique to the day, or to the class of fifth-graders. Every day, every class at Polton begins with Den Circles, a communal meeting time that offers students and teachers alike a chance to check in with each other.
“This is a chance to connect with the kids. Our students come to the circle with the chance to listen and talk about what’s going in their lives,” said Mary Derbish, a fourth-grade teacher who started at Polton this year. “It helps them build relationships and check in with one another. I see them develop skills in this group that they apply in other parts of their daily lives.”
The Den Circles have been a part of the daily routine at Polton for two years, and teachers across grade levels point to the value the meetings have had in all aspects of students’ daily lives and classroom routines. Derbish, who started at Polton this fall after years teaching at other elementary schools across the Cherry Creek School District, said she’s seen the value of the meeting in her short time at the school.
The Den Circles help students build connections, check in on their social-emotional well-being and offer a valuable outlet for mental health discussions. The daily meetings offer the same benefits to teachers, she said.
“I’m new to Polton, and the Den Circles help me,” she said. “I’m utterly inspired.”
The group meetings offer the same kind of benefits for teachers who’ve been at Polton for years. Parkhurst, who started her 24th year at the school this fall, said the Den Circles offer her an idea of how students are starting their day. That knowledge, she said, has an impact on how she approaches teaching, to meet the students where they are emotionally and mentally.
“These groups really help us address the whole well-being of the students,” she said. “Den Circles have really helped us learn a lot about each other. It helps the students know that their teachers care about them.”
According to Polton Principal Angie Lore, the Den Circles also help foster a school-wide emphasis on wellness, caring and empathy. The circles support the school’s “PAWS” philosophy, an acronym that stands for Perseverance, Achievement, Warm-Heartedness and Safety, even as they support the core values of the district as a whole.
“This year we have dubbed ourselves: Polton 2.0-Best of the Best. This means that everything we do is next level to support our students, staff and community. It means we offer OUR best in every way, to everyone, every day,” Lore said. “Den Circles are an example of us providing an opportunity to connect, while building strong relationships as a school community.”
That approach applies equally to all students at Polton. Meredith Schley, who teaches second grade, said the Den Circles offer younger students at the school the foundational values that will serve them through their time in elementary school and beyond.
“With the younger kids, the Den Circles offer a place where they can talk about the feelings that they need to get out,” she said. “This is setting them up, giving them something they can build on. It’s helping me to get to know the kids better.
“It’s really about building relationships,” she added.
-- Posted 9/13/21 at 10 AM