By Building Familiarity, "Falcon Families" Helps Bring Freeman Students Closer Together

By Building Familiarity, "Falcon Families" Helps Bring Freeman Students Closer Together

By Tyler Dahlgren

After 10 minutes of calm following the day’s first bell, Freeman Public School sprang back to life early Friday morning, as excited packs of students spilled into its hallways and took off on a quest to find their Falcon Families.

Flo Rida’s “My House” echoed from the PA system, only slightly muffling the sound of an enlivened blend of kindergartners through sixth-graders. After pandemic stipulations forced a first semester break, “Falcon Families” was back and the school’s culture was alive and well.

The buzz was almost tangible. In both the elementary and secondary wings of the building, it was definitely audible.

In one room, high school English teacher Brett Sales channeled iconic television game show hosts while moderating an exuberant game of Family Feud while Toto’s “Africa” echoed in waves from a collection of Boomwhackers in a nearby music room.

(Pictured Above: English teacher turned game show host Brett Sales leads a friendly bout of Family Feud during Friday's Falcon Families period at Freeman Public School.)

In first-grade teacher Lisa Riha’s room, kids clapped as the board games came out while third-grade teacher Aimee Parde’s team of Epic Rock Star Giraffes (we’ll elaborate later) huddled in a nearby classroom to celebrate poster signs showing off their mascot.

“I’ve seen a lot of great benefits in a short amount of time doing Falcon Families, a lot of excitements,” said elementary principal Erin Sieh. “It’s built a sense of community, and we all see value in it so we’re excited to see it continue to grow.”

Students meet with their Falcon Families every other week to get to know one another through big circle discussions and relationship-building activities. There are 14 families consisting of about 15 students and two adults in each the elementary and secondary levels, and the groups stay consistent from one year to the next.

(Pictured Above: Erin Sieh, principal of Freeman Elementary, watches as Jocelyn Fountain (left) and Sophia Clay (right) play a game of UNO during Freeman's Falcon Families.)

The Falcon Families model was developed after the Freeman staff began noticing an increase in referrals from its mental health clinician. Self-harm statements were becoming alarmingly frequent, coming from students as young as second-grade.

The administration set off to establish a community within its school. To provide an environment for students as inclusive as it gets. To build a family. Or 28 families, with their own colorful mascots and secret handshakes, to be exact. From the aforementioned Epic Rock Star Giraffes to the Golden Kicking Chickens.

(Pictured Above: Aimee Pardee's classroom is filled with Epic Rock Star Giraffes. Family members will even strike the air guitar when passing one another in the hallways of their school.)

“Our main philosophy is that we don’t want any student to walk out of our doors and feel like they didn’t belong,” said Sieh, who is in her seventh-year as a principal at the school.  “When you think about having sixth-graders in the same room as kindergartners, that can be kind of daunting and frightening for the young students. Eventually, the sixth-graders take on a nurturing role and just scoop those little ones under their wings and guide and help them. It’s so neat to see.”

The same kind of camaraderie is formed in the secondary wing, where it’s not uncommon at all to see seventh-graders going out of their way to say hello to a familiar and not-so-very-terrifying-at-all senior. In the past, Sieh has even had a sixth-grader drop down to a knee to tie the shoe of a first-grader.

(Pictured Above: First-grade teacher Mrs. Lisa Riha plays Trouble with John Dorn, a student in her Falcon Family.)

“He recognized that, ‘Oh man, this might be a tripping hazard and she needs some help and I can help her,’” Sieh said. “Empowering these older kids, teaching them compassion and kindness in a world where bullying is such an issue, especially in schools, is very important to us.”

Parde points to the historic solar eclipse nearly three-and-a-half years ago as the catalyst to the implementation of Falcon Families at Freeman. Seeing students of all ages mingle and enjoy such a memorable event together was a fresh breath of air that led to a fresh new idea.

“We were inspired, seeing the little kids mix with the big kids,” said Parde. “Erin really helped push the idea forward, and it’s been so nice to see it come to life.”

(Pictured Above: Nora Latta and Collin Muir play a game of trivia during Falcon Families at Freeman Public School last Friday.)

Activities vary from week to week and room to room. Ideas come from teachers, who have gotten more and more creative with productive ways to spend time. The school’s mental health professional, ESU 5 school psychologist Jamie Mapp, has even provided suggestions in the past.

While one family tries to complete a scavenger hunt, another spends its half-an-hour block diving into STEM projects or squaring off in a wide-range of games, all in the name of fun and togetherness.

Falcon Families has been universally beneficial. Sixth-graders take as much from being a part of a family as kindergartners. One group steps into the role of mentor while the other has an example in place to follow and admire. It’s a cycle driven by kindness that is having a real effect on Freeman’s culture, which shines through in the many heartwarming moments Freeman’s staff gets to witness every other Friday morning.

(Pictured Above: Madyson Hill, Bryleigh Ideus and Lexi Othmer take a break from their creations to pose for a picture during Falcon Families.)

“This is an opportunity for fifteen kids who normally don’t spend time together to get to know each other,” said Sieh. “So when they walk out of their Falcon Family, they will be familiar with fifteen other people in the school that they might not otherwise have a relationship with.”

In Freeman Public Schools, there are 28 distinctively unique Falcon Familes with their own personalities and quirks and handshakes.


Sure, it seems like a lot, but when you walk outside after spending even an hour in their building, it’s apparent that, in reality, those 28 teams make up one big family of Freeman Falcons.

And there’s nothing more familiar than family.

(Pictured Above: Kace Schoenberg, Kamdyn Warren, Colton Shubert and Nolan Buhr team together to answer questions during Falcon Families.)