Without the connections being developed in Cav Time at East Hills Middle School in Bloomfield Hills, students and staff might not know that two students have an extra bone, that one loves to do trapeze, and that a surprising number say their favorite animal is the giraffe.
Fifth grader Kassidy Benion says, "One thing I noticed in Cav Time is that you make new connections with new people. I think Cav Time is a good way to express yourself with other people that you don't really know."
There are 24 different Cav Time groups that meet monthly at the same time. Each encompass fourth through eighth grades with around twenty students and two to three adult staff members, including both teachers and paraeducators, in each group. The Cav Time groups stay the same for the entire school year, but change in makeup from year to year to increase the number of connections made by students and staff members. And all of the group members wear name tags. Notes Principal Jason Rubel, "One of the most amazing things is to see the students know each other's names. We've been really intentional about spending some time knowing who each other is so that when we see each other out of context — on the bus or in the community — we know someone a little differently."
Lily Trumble, a fifth grader agrees Cav Time helps her know a lot more about people. "It's supposed to be the connection with other people. Before I thought it was like meeting people older than you. Now I know it's a connection with the people."
Teacher Doug Thompson notes that each Cav Time session leads to the next Cav Time session organically. "This time we were talking about similarities and differences of each student. The last time we did a staff slide show where each staff member shared five unique things about themselves. The next time we are going to have each Cav Group create a slide that can be shared with the whole school."
Fifth grader Kevin Quiles is excited about the slide project, saying, "I think that it is really amazing how we get to meet all these new people and how we get to make connections with older graders and younger graders."
The catalyst for Cav Time was the introduction of fourth grade to East Hills in the Fall of 2017 according to Rubel. "We were really excited to rethink how we do things, and one of the exciting parts for us last year was introducing our fourth graders. We were very intentional in our design to create an elementary space in a middle school space, including physically, how we guided the schedule, and how we interacted. We also wanted to be intentional about creating space across all grade levels and across programming. Cav Time was born out of that process with links to our Global Education Team which included parent involvement. We grew it from there into our academic setting, pairing up staff and students that we normally couldn't do in a typical middle school or upper elementary setting."
Thompson said it's been a positive but growing process for East Hills. "You can imaging the logistics of getting the entire school involved. We are interrupting every single student and adult in the building. It takes a while to change the culture to get everyone to accept that."
Still, the staff has embraced the initiative. "I've been very proud," says Rubel of the staff. "One of the things for us is that it's a different use of instructional time. How we've tried to model it in our staff meetings is practice it and be more familiar with what we are going for, including making Cav Time more open ended and incorporating games to make it more enjoyable. It lets the students be themselves to build that comfort level within the group."
Lily Trumble says the participation in Cav Time has really made a difference in the relationships at East Hills. "I was a little scared of the eighth graders because they were taller than me. Since Cav Time, I've gotten to know them. I'm not scared of them anymore, and I'm bonding with them."
The Cav Time initiative dovetails with the Portrait of a Learner initiative that is happening at the district level, according to Rubel. "Bloomfield Hills Schools is looking at the complexity of getting to know someone, viewing things from multiple perspectives, issues of social and emotional inquiry, and how we work as teams in places where we are so accustomed to working within grade level and small cohorts. Cav Time grows us to get outside our comfort zone as it creates mentoring opportunities and also the ability for younger students to lead from their chair and have something to offer to the older students."
Fourth-grader Tristin Omtved likes that the groups have students from all grades, "It's important to have connections to all the grades and to have connections with different people because that means you can find common interests."
Tricia Zyrowski, teacher, says sees all students in the school benefiting from Cav Time. "I work with a specialized group of students who are deaf and hard of hearing so it's a good opportunity for them to share their unique needs, interests, and abilities across the school. It opens that door for communication with the rest of the school because that is not something that inherently known or understood. This gives them and us an opportunity to understand and build relationships with different types and different groups of people and create a kind of belonging despite and because of differences and similarities. I think that's a great chance for all of our students to come together as one community."
Several of the elementary schools across Bloomfield Hills Schools have similar multi-age community groups. Thompson has personal experience with both levels. "I think it's interesting that Eastover Elementary has the Eagles' Nests," says Thompson. "I found out about that when my son started there as a kindergartener. I thought, 'That is such a good idea. But, how much more important is it to do it when kids are in late elementary and middle school!' So I hope it is something that we can continue grow the capacity for. Right now we are looking at how we can use these groups in activities that already exist like our Spirit Week or our Field Day at the end of the year. Where once we just did the activities as activities, but now because of what we are developing here we can capitalize on that and continue to grow it outward."
Zyrowski also sees the potential for continuing the outward growth Cav Time, especially as it relates to the students in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing program. "Most of my students are just around each other all day and they really only have the chance to communicate with each other, so this opens another opportunity for them. It gives them access to more communication with more peers which is really cool. And it think it helps other students see and become interested in other languages and other cultures.
"Beyond that," continues Zyrowski, "I think the most important thing is getting our students back to face-to-face interaction. Not just knowing names, but seeing faces and communicating with one another. That's a skill—being able to communicate face to face. That's a really valuable thing that is not necessarily known by students any more."
Maryn Pecic, fourth grader, sums it up. "I think its cool that a bunch of people from different grades get to come together and learn new things to get community."