HIGHLIGHTING HAPPINESS: Happiness = a place in community

By: Andrew Campanella

Last Upated: April 15, 2021



In Florida, Pahokee Elementary School’s International Baccalaureate program brings students and the local community together, inspiring both.


by Andrew Campanella with Savanna Buckner

If you step into a classroom at Pahokee Elementary School, you might find the mayor describing his job to students. Or a city police officer sharing why he chose his career. Or WPEC-Channel 12’s chief meteorologist, Erin Christiansen, quizzing second-graders about Florida weather.

It’s amazing to witness how different schools are encouraging students to find their own happiness. Pahokee Elementary School’s recipe for success lies in connecting students with their local community and using the power of real-life examples to inspire.

As part of the magnet school’s International Baccalaureate program, students explore global themes like “How Do We Organize Ourselves” and “How the World Works.” School leaders make these global themes relevant by inviting community members — like Christiansen — to interact with students on the topics.

This helps the children feel more connected and boosts their confidence interacting with members of the greater community. During Christiansen’s visit, for instance, second-graders eagerly chimed in with their thoughts and observations about weather phenomena.

Plus, interacting with local leaders inspires students to consider what they want to do when they grow up.

“It’s paramount to their education that they can see other opportunities that are out there,” said Cassandra Moreland, IB Coordinator at Pahokee Elementary School. “They can say, ‘This person inspires me. I want to be a police officer when I grow up, or I want to be the mayor, or I want to be a meteorologist.’ These are avenues they can explore starting at an early age.”

Moreland said another way students gain a connection with the community is via the school’s young authors’ club. Students in the club develop their writing and present finished pieces to their families, inviting community members to listen and cheer them on.

The best part? The school doesn’t simply bring the community into the classrooms; students and teachers also go out into the community.

Students assist at the food pantry, for example, helping provide meals for hungry community members.

“We also take a field trip to local libraries to study cultural exhibits they put on,” Moreland said. “That’s a big part of our community as well.”

The school property even hosts a recycling bin where parents and other community members are encouraged to donate items from their homes. The items are shipped to families in need and the school receives a donation in return. Moreland describes the process as synergetic: “We’re receiving and they’re receiving.”

Synergy. Students play an active role in the community, learning firsthand “How the World Works.” Meanwhile, community members like Christiansen share their life experience at the school and are rewarded by the light in second-graders’ eyes as they raise their hands to ask questions.

Pahokee Elementary School reminds us that building connections between students and local communities can have a tremendous impact, but it begins with something small: an invitation. As Moreland said, “Sometimes we’re not aware of the benefits of our communities until we open our doors to them. Then we can explore what they have to offer.”


Read more: 5 Questions for Cassandra Moreland, Pahokee Elementary School

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