UCDS School Culture 5th Grade Students Reflect On Their Experiences

We are Charlotte, Christopher, Lea, and Reid, 5th graders at University Child Development School. We are members of the Graduate Education Committee (GEC). The GEC is a group of teachers and students working together to create a graduate school of education within our elementary school.

The graduate school will focus on understanding and building school culture. We spent the year thinking about what makes our culture unique, interesting, and special. We observed, interviewed, reflected, wrote, and photographed in order to better understand the way we work and learn. We found challenges, teamwork, inclusivity, and celebration are integral parts of the UCDS learning culture.

Enjoy reading about the ways these ideas bring our school to life.


From ages three to twelve, UCDS is really filled with inclusivity. Really, you could pick any grade and you could find a lot of examples of people including each other. Throughout the school, we have so many times when we are working with different age groups, genders, and all different kinds of people. Interacting with so many people makes UCDS a place that is open to many different ideas and perspectives. Everyone feels included.

At UCDS, we have younger or older buddies. This year, I have two buddies that are age 5 and they are really different but also super tight friends. It’s great getting to hang out with them every Friday. We read books, learn about what’s going on, and get used to being with younger and older kids. When I was in first grade, I had an older buddy that I really looked up to (she was really tall!) and I liked hanging out with her. Hanging out with different aged kids makes it really easy to be inclusive. We are flexible as a community about who we work and play with.

In the Labyrinth, there are plastic jewels hidden around the playground. The kids team up in groups, let all of their peers in, and go on hunts and trade the jewels with other groups. You might think kids can’t share, but in this case, people are working together and interacting. People still make mistakes and get frustrated sometimes, but that’s part of learning to be inclusive.

On the elementary playground, there’s a game that has been trending lately called Blob Tag. There are 1st through 5th graders all playing together, acting like they’ve been friends for years. Everyone is so used to being around other people in different grades. We know how to participate and people work hard to make sure people get along.

We are a very diverse school and we have a lot of differences mixed together in classrooms. It makes a difference because you can learn to work with anybody. You get a chance when you are working together to get to know everyone's personalities and what their strengths and challenges are. It can put you in someone else’s shoes so you get to understand their perspective. One time I experienced this was when I was put in a group of people I did not really know that well. I thought I would not like working with them, but we ended up working well together and making a really good project because we used all of our strengths and combined them to make an amazing group.

One other key thing that I notice at UCDS is that everyone gets to know almost everybody. Almost every year I have had different people that I have been in class with. I have usually been in class with one or two people I know, but usually it is with all these kids I never got to know before. Even one of my closest friends this year, I had never been in a class with before and I feel like I’ve known her since I started at UCDS. It’s important to know people in your community and feel included. You can take bigger risks when you feel comfortable. You can learn more and jump out of your box. Creating an inclusive community makes the UCDS experience amazing.


Here at UCDS, challenges and “brain-stretchers” are a huge part of learning. Students stretch themselves and solve their problems in a variety of ways. Working with a classmate helps students work through problems. One UCDS student said, “Teamwork allows me to see things from a different perspective.”

For larger problems, either on a class-wide or school-wide scale, issues are solved when every member of a class attends a meeting called class meeting. At class meeting, each student can share their ideas.

UCDS students say that the UCDS teachers have helped them solve problems by giving a strategy in order to help them solve the problem themselves, instead of giving them an answer to the problem, and have always been easy to talk to when there is a problem.

As students get older, they add to their “toolbox” of personal problem-solving strategies. These can include process of elimination in mathematics, self-editing in writing, and note-taking, which are helpful skills throughout life.



Whether we are doing math vitamin, recess, or just school in general, one message is always portrayed, teamwork. If one student is struggling, another helps them out. If a teacher needs help, the class will help them out. Everyone is helping everybody, that's how we roll. Here are some photos of teamwork in action.


This picture depicts three girls working together at recess. One girl is pushing the wagon of fun, one is pulling it, and the third is having a great time riding around the playground. They are using teamwork to simply have fun.


This picture depicts a class of kindergarteners having what we call “a class meeting.” At University Child Development School, each class of students gets to talk about problems they see in the class, the playground, or the community as a class. Then, if and idea gains enough support, it is brought to all school meeting, where it gets discussed even further. Here, the students are using teamwork to improve our community.


Here is a picture of when Molly Peacock came to UCDS and worked with the 5th graders on poems. Each student poetically stated what they thought their pet animal dreamed about and why. Everyone contributed ideas, and by the end of 45 minutes they had generated a poem, together.


This is a picture of the kindergarteners recess. The school supplies toy bikes for students to ride on, but many of them are not strong enough to get up the hill by themselves. So, every recess students will pair up with their friends, and work together to get up the hill. (They take turns.)


Here two students are practicing gymnastics on our turf field. One student, (The one with a pink jacket), is learning how to do a handstand. The other, is helping her get her legs up where they need to be and keeping them there, to let her feel what it's like to do a handstand.

Those examples of teamwork are some of our best, but there are many more that happen every day. From recess to math, everyone is constantly helping each other improve. I’m sure that if you asked anyone, a teacher or a student, about our culture with teamwork, I’m sure they would be able to tell you a hundred things just off of the top of their head! In fact, Here comes one right now!


In our UCDS culture we believe learning is fun and we like to celebrate learning as a community. We express our excitement about celebrations in an active way.

Some of our celebrations involve the whole school, like Theme Fair each spring when each level shows what they have been working on and how it relates to the school-wide theme. For example, when our theme was “Thread,” the 3-4 classes studied clothing and visitors graphed where their clothing was from. They got to see our clothing designs and designing some their own. At each Theme Fair, students invite family members and they go around the whole school and check out what each level has been doing. Students work in shifts at their level. At this celebration, every student has contributed to the project and they take responsibility for sharing what they have learned. We share our ideas not only with our UCDS community, but also the outside world at Theme Fair.

We have celebrations that sometimes involve a few grade levels. An example of that is Valentine’s Lunch, where the oldest students draw names out of a hat and they make that person’s lunch that day. I think this is unique because we spend time to make other people's’ lunch based on what they want. This lets students and teachers learn a little about their community members. It also allows the maker to become creative and choose what they make and surprise the receiver. UCDS believes in working as a community which is why we have Valentine’s lunch as a tradition, to strengthen our bond as a community. You wouldn’t believe the fun lunch creations that arrive on Valentine’s Day!

During Book Birthdays, younger students celebrate when they complete a book they have written over weeks or months. We celebrate the process of this accomplishment and the hard work that went into it. Classmates listen respectfully and are excited to hear the world premier of a new book. This allows the students to feel proud and feel good that they have just accomplished a goal.

Sometimes UCDS has celebrations that are more personal, like if someone is working on a difficult math problem and they figure out a solution. Even though it might not be big and announced, the student still feels pride and the joy of accomplishing a goal. The student celebrates by sharing with a teacher or a fellow student. The teacher will express their excitement as well, and then give the student another challenge. This allows the student to stretch his or her brain even more, but have a good feeling that once they finish the next goal they will feel proud again.

The Graduate Education Committee Service Learning Students

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