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Celebrations of Learning

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Practicing public speaking and presentation skills while sharing what has been learned

Grade-four students smile for the camera after their Greek myth performances.
Grade-four students smile for the camera after their Greek myth performances.

Greek gods and goddesses fill the room. Zeus has tired of ambrosia and nectar, so he is holding a bake-off to find something he likes better.

But we are not at Mount Olympus. We are in Harlem Academy’s common room for the grade-four Celebration of Learning. The students studied Greek mythology, wrote their own myths, and, now, are performing them for their families and peers.

Part school performance, part term project, and part interactive community gathering, Celebrations of Learning are a cherished Harlem Academy tradition. These events are important opportunities to foster public speaking and presentation skills in our lower school students. Every class hosts a Celebration of Learning each trimester. Teachers select a theme or project that will tie together an academic unit, serving as a point of culmination. The audience is always full of proud family members.

Grade one turned the common room into an art gallery, presenting to guests on their own work as well as that of Claude Monet and Piet Mondrian.

Grade two repurposed the library into a bustling store. Students served as eager vendors of crafts, fruit, plants, and their self-published school magazine, demonstrating skills mastered during a unit on arithmetic and currency denominations.

“As a parent I enjoy Celebrations of Learning; the students learn to speak in public, to have more confidence in themselves,” says grade-three parent Carola Centeno. “At this school they present among themselves and to the parents, which is great. My son can speak his own mind to strangers, to the world.”

As students prepare material to present to peers and family members, they are forced to synthesize their pen-and-paper schoolwork in a new way. They must rely on the logic of performance and public speaking in order to effectively communicate their ideas and complete the assignment. This not only reinforces their coursework, but gives them a vital sense of confidence as they speak in front of strangers. This process often catalyzes remarkable transformations in our students.

“To see a student that would barely speak above a whisper in class be a really loud vivacious character, that’s a huge transformation,” remarks Lower School Director LaShonda Davis.

Grade-four student Dorian adds, “In first grade our presentations were all small, but our most recent Celebration of Learning was much bigger. It made me feel like a bigger person. The work was harder and I felt more comfortable.”