Wilburton Elementary: Building community, one student and one parent at a time

Wilburton Elementary is a state-of-the-art school being built from the ground up, following the guidance of the Microsoft Education Transformation Framework, and is a collaborative effort between the Bellevue School District (BSD) and Microsoft. Follow Wilburton’s progress as it happens, from breaking ground, to hiring, to professional development, to becoming a true 21st century learning community when it opens its doors in September 2018.

Every child is different, and while teachers get to know the unique personalities, strengths, likes, and dislikes of the students in their classrooms, no one knows them better than their own parents. Wilburton Elementary Principal Beth Hamilton understands this well.  That’s why she believes the voice of parents will be a strong part of building the Wilburton Elementary community.

“One of the big things we want to focus on is the parent voice,” she tells me. “Parents usually get told, ‘here’s what we’re doing and here’s how we’re doing it.’ But they don’t necessarily have an opportunity to share what they feel is best, or what they want. That’s a disservice, because they know their kids best.”

Wilburton Elementary recently held its second Family Night (the first was in January), this time with the families who knew of their official enrollment in the new school. “We had a few hundred people in attendance,” Hamilton says. “One of the best moments was being able to introduce the staff we’ve hired. Almost all were there meeting and greeting, as were some of our colleagues from Bellevue School District. The evening was all about fun, hands-on learning — but also listening and connecting to our parent community.”


Community cafés and STEM learning


Hamilton and her team designed the night around activities for the kids, but also around a “community café” protocol – where parents gathered in groups of four to six, along with a teacher whose job it was to listen and take notes. The questions they asked were specific:

  • After their first year, what story do you hope your kids will tell about their time at Wilburton?
  • How do you want to be communicated to and with during the school year? What types of communication do you want?
  • What excites you about being part of Wilburton?

Teachers had about 30 minutes with the small groups and Hamilton was especially thrilled to witness the active listening from teachers and to hear a variety of ideas from parents. “Overwhelmingly, we heard, ’that was amazing!’ from both parents and teachers,” Hamilton tells me. “Our goal is to keep doing community cafés throughout the school year on various topics to keep the communication lines open. Collaboration as a community is one of our biggest priorities.”

Beyond the family nights and community cafés, parents will also play active roles in the school’s leadership, including two school-wide leadership teams: The Equity and Inclusion Team and the PBIS team (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports).

Hamilton has begun using #wearefamily in communications to the Wilburton community, and acknowledges that working as a family won’t always be smooth sailing. “There needs to be dialogue back and forth,” she says. “We’ll probably will get into arguments and disagree. And then we’ll come back and problem solve. It’s turning into, ‘we are a community together.’ It’s not a one-way street.”

Neighbors as community and curriculum


The Bellevue Botanical Garden lies directly adjacent to Wilburton. It’s a beautiful neighbor, to be sure. But with any change comes some apprehension. The Garden was rightfully worried about the impact the new school would have. To Hamilton and the Wilburton team, the Garden is a natural fit as part of the school community, so they reached out.

“The Botanical Garden has a variety of programs and opportunities for our community, including their Learning in the Garden program,” Hamilton tells me. “So, we’re talking about a partnership. For instance, the Garden has a library. Our students could be authors, learning about the plants, connecting them with science, and then creating materials for the Garden that will be there for the patrons to read.”

Conversely, Wilburton has an indoor/outdoor space, which has the potential to be the perfect spot for the neighbors to collaborate. They are currently in the beginning stages of discussing how the Botanical Garden could help Wilburton create their own garden space.


Mascot and colors, oh my!


When it comes to students, there are really two hot topics: the school mascot and colors. How does a brand-new school choose?

“We collected ideas for our mascot and colors from our January family nights,” says Hamilton. “Based on those ideas, we created a Microsoft form where the mascot and colors were listed and families could vote for their favorites. There were over 20 choices and ideas for each!” The first round of voting produced the top four choices in each category: Mascot and Colors, and now each family has one vote to choose the ultimate winner.

“One student came to the family night very excited and passionate about his idea for mascot and colors: the Wilburton Wooly Bears with the colors Orange and Black,” Hamilton tells me. “He wanted to get more votes, so he created flyers to hang up.  He was marketing his idea.  Not only was it cute, it was authentic learning and producing. That is what we are all about at Wilburton!”

Will they be the Wilburton Wooly Bears? We’ll all have to wait a bit longer. The big unveiling will take place at the end-of-school-year ice cream social in June. Hamilton plans to have the mascot there, decked out in the school colors, handing out school swag. Wilburton school spirit will be on full display for the first time – but certainly not the last.

Up Next: Make learning personal.

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