Students at Barrington Elementary and Wickcliffe Progressive School in Upper Arlington started the school year with three weeks of immersion learning on the subject of community.

The idea, according to Wickliffe teacher Katie Coplin, is not for students to reach a predesigned conclusion.

Rather, the focus is on collaboration and the learning process itself.

"It is an interdisciplinary study that follows the class and students' interests around a topic," said Coplin, a National Board for Professional Standards-certified iCoach. "It is emergent learning at its best."

She described immersion as a "whole-school and -program collaboration."

"Sharing of ideas is expected and encouraged between teachers, grades, students, everyone," Coplin said. "Immersion lasts for three weeks, but it can be a springboard for further class studies."

Over the summer, teachers heading up the Informal Program at Barrington Elementary and Wickliffe Progressive School decided a study on the topic of "community" would allow their students to learn through experience and help build foundations for them to become responsible citizens in a democratic society.

Those goals are among the pillars on which the district's Informal Program was established in 1972.

Throughout the first month of classes this year, Barrington and Wickliffe students sought to interpret community in their own ways.

On Sept. 22, the students took field trips to each school to see what each had devised.

During the morning at Wickliffe, students in first through third grades performed skits and showed off posters and other projects to their Barrington peers, displaying what they've learned about community.

Posters listed the physical structures of communities, such as schools, parks and libraries; and philosophies, such as groups of people coming together to help each other.

In one classroom, Wickliffe students discussed the importance of meeting and greeting people and the related rituals in place to do just that at their school.

In another room, students discussed having "a thing," such as being a fan of a sport or team, or a love of music or animals.

They also talked about how people can learn something new from others' "things" and develop respect for the different interests people have.

"A 'thing' is the thing you like best," Wickliffe teacher Kristin Santilli said.

Students in other classes explained projects they've started to leave rocks with positive messages painted on them throughout the school for students, staff and visitors to find. Posters examined words and actions that engendered kindness or repaired broken hearts.

"As an Informal Program, we are continually looking for ways to connect and collaborate," Coplin said. "We feel that immersion unifies us because adults and students are all learning together.

"The students benefit from learning from each other and from their peers at the other school," she said. "It will be amazing to see how each class explored the topic of community. In addition, we wanted to create a tradition that will continue for years to come."