The Culture of Belonging Comes to Wornick Day School

Megan Krat

As an involved parent and civic leader, Megan Krat has done her fair share of community outreach. But when she took on her role as Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) President of the Wornick Jewish Day School in Foster City, she began to realize that she faced a common challenge in the world of community-based volunteerism.

“I wanted to reach more people,” she said from her home office. But even more than the breadth of outreach, she saw a need to meaningfully connect with folks who are not necessarily inclined to be active in their PTO.

Then she had an idea. This could be a “Culture of Belonging” moment.

Community organizations, including the Federation, have embraced a belonging culture as an effective pathway to increased engagement in Jewish life.

Its 10 principles are intentionally designed to ensure that every individual feels seen and valued within a group. It’s practical, actionable, and even small changes can be surprisingly impactful.

Annie O'Donnell

As members of the Federation’s two-year Culture of Belonging (CB) learning and change cohort, comprised of participants from 9 Bay Area day schools, Megan and her colleague, Annie O’Donnell, Wornick’s Director of Admissions, were both looking for an opportunity to implement their CB tools. What better place to start than in their own PTO?

They created a series of events called “Classroom Connect” in which Wornick parents, separated roughly by grade, were provided a welcoming forum that had one purpose: “To get people to talk to each other.” There were no hidden agendas. No fundraising appeals at the end of the sessions. No pleas to volunteer their time.

To make that happen, they were very intentional in how they structured these Zoom meetings, implementing Culture of Belonging strategies like engaging opening and closing rituals that were “light and easy” but supportive of the goals of the events. Parents were asked opening questions ranging from: “What is something you’ve done or learned to do during the pandemic for yourself?” to “What was your hairstyle when you were the age your student is now?” Questions such as these provide interesting and often laugh-filled ways for participants to connect with one another. As for closing rituals, there was only one: To have everyone share one word or phrase for how they felt at the end of the hour. This exercise brought almost everyone closer together.

Additionally, they opened small breakout rooms where four or five participants would try to find five things they have in common, once again cultivating genuine connections between parents. Perhaps most importantly, Annie and Megan always kept their focus on assets over needs. “As PTO President our primary assets are parents and staff,” said Megan. “And I wanted to foster the most genuine interactions possible by not connecting these events to any official planning or PTO business… By eliminating any possible “work” or focus on needs, we opened the door to everyone.”

The outcomes were extraordinary.

“So many people expressed connection, a sense of community, gratitude, positivity, being glad they joined yet another Zoom call, and surprise at how fun a social Zoom call is compared to work,” said Megan. “And there was the joy of seeing each other and connecting with people they haven’t seen in a year or seeing people without a mask on.”

“Sometimes it's the little things that really make a difference in a community,” added Annie, who started at Wornick as a parent and volunteer before ultimately becoming Director of Admissions and Community Engagement.

In that role, Annie and her partners at Wornick have been focused on belonging as a priority, even before receiving a Federation-sponsored Culture of Belonging grant. Their Community Engagement Committee offers activities ranging from cooking classes to playdates for new families to events for Spanish speakers to delivering freshly baked challahs to families who may be going through a hard time “or maybe just need a little bit of love.”

These are people who don’t just believe in a Culture of Belonging. They are living it.

“I fundamentally believe that everyone is looking for their place in this world,” said Annie. “And to feel connected and to feel like your school is your second home, which is what so many of our parents say. I feel like we're doing something right when I hear that. So that's really our goal: that everyone is seen and feels connected.”

This Culture of Belonging-inspired community art project is entitled: “One People One Heart – Am Echad B’Lev Echad.” It was created in collaboration by Wornick’s art teacher, Ginger Slonaker, Annie O’Donnell, and so many parents and members of the WDS community who all felt as if they belonged.

Read about how you can introduce a Culture of Belonging into your organization.

Categories: Community


April 14, 2021


Jon Moskin