Each year at SF Day, our students engage with different curricular themes by grade, each theme providing a framework for academic content and skills development. In First Grade, students study communities and systems, with one of their major instructional units focused on community within the classroom, the school, and the neighborhood. To explore the concept of school as community, SF Day First Graders engage with a project-based unit that involves launching and operating a school-wide post office!
The Post Office unit provides First Graders with real-world context as they learn how to write friendly and persuasive letters. After running the Post Office project online last year, our community of learners was excited to bring elements of this annual tradition back to an in-person experience. In late January 2022, the First Grade Post Office opened, giving students, faculty, and staff the chance to build community by exchanging letters with one another.
In a more “normal” school year, the First Grade Post Office project would involve additional elements that have been limited by the pandemic, like a field trip to a local post office, a classroom visit from SF Day’s letter carrier, and exchanging treats with older SF Day buddy pairings via the Buddy Program. This project would also typically lead into more experiential learning opportunities studying communities and systems in other contexts, including a Farm to Table project focused on food featuring field trips to Connolly Ranch Farm, a farmer’s market, and a restaurant kitchen, and an entomology project featuring a field trip to the Randall Museum and insect visitors in the classroom. While the real-world application of the Post Office project has been more limited than in years past due to the pandemic, our First Grade teaching team has been creative about using video and other activities to help recreate valuable experiences.
An important part of the Post Office project is the community interviews portion. At the beginning of the semester, the unit kicks off with community interviews, wherein First Graders interview various faculty and staff to learn more about the members of our community and to identify pen pals. First Graders invite SF Day community members to visit the class one-by-one to be interviewed by the whole class. Community members are then paired with a First Grader pen pal to exchange letters, learning about each other along the way and giving students experience with reading and writing letters. Pen pals take a photo together that is then added to a display of community pen pal pairings in the classroom.
While students conduct community interviews and identify pen pals, the Post Office begins operation. The project includes a student-run post office stand, complete with a mailbox, regular mail collection and sorting schedule, as well as mail carrier outfits. Each day of the week that the Post Office operates, First Graders can be spotted gleefully and dutifully checking the mailbox, sorting letters from one community member to another, and donning their official attire.
The project weaves in the school’s commitment to diversity—near the post office stand, there is a gallery featuring African Americans on postage stamps in celebration of Black History Month; as they prepare to operate the Post Office, students study stamps, postcards, and how mail is processed in other countries; and students receive written letters from around the world thanks to the international connectedness of SF Day families.
The Post Office project has become a hallmark of the SF Day experience—because our school values responsibility to ourselves, each other, and society, we’re excited to share this project beyond the SF Day community. It’s special to have First Graders, some of SF Day’s youngest learners, run something that goes beyond the ecosystem of the First Grade classroom. It’s a point of connection between the “big kids” and the younger learners at SF Day. The project encourages younger students to show up to school with their whole selves and makes space for older students to engage with younger students. For younger students, this project also provides a space to take risks by sharing their writing and their identities with fellow community members. Older students remember what it was like to be a First Grader running the Post Office, and they’re activated to help support younger learners.
Connection and community are at the core of this remarkable project. As the First Grade Post Office expands student learning beyond the classroom and into the world, the entire community benefits. The community looks forward to the return of the Post Office project next year!