Our Belonging Tree

By Michelle Holladay and Kelly Nowakowski, English Teachers

Challenger Middle School, San Diego, CA



Each Challenger student wrote a six-word story on a leaf (color coded by grade level) in their English class. The idea being, we are all unique and have our own individual stories; yet when combined, our stories create something beautiful. Our hope is that each student will recognize their importance as an individual as well as a part of our campus community. We also wanted to show that each of us belongs here. The idea for the "Belonging Tree" came from our learning over the past two summers as part of the USD Johnson Family Education Fellowship which focuses on inclusion.


Our students are 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. Many of the English teachers also contributed a story for the tree as well. As we begin the year reading and writing narrative across the grade levels, this work is directly related to the lessons included in the course of study. Prior to writing, we read and discussed narratives specifically focusing on identity and belonging. Each grade level was provided a grade level appropriate reading.


Here are a few examples from our students:

● Not friends, but strangers with memories.

● Leaving her behind was the worst.

● Someone told me to keep going.

● Alone, in a room, with people.

● They left slowly, she felt numb.

● The past is crumbling behind them.

● They watched as I slowly withered.


Our students enjoyed the writing and especially love the idea of their stories featured on the library wall. They often stop by the tree just to read some of the stories. With about 950 total stories on the tree, each time they stop by, they find new stories to explore. We have received only positive feedback as well as requests to build a tree at the start of every year.