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A Novel Opportunity

Gordon has been an educator for 17 years. For the first sixteen years, he taught English exclusively to “at-risk” students with the last ten years teaching at a juvenile detention center. He is now a first year assistant administrator at an urban Title I school. The students who are labeled “at-risk” are his passion because they have been slighted for too long, told they couldn’t learn, or any number of other negative things that get stuck in their minds. All of these things can be undone, but only through the hard work of devoted teachers who understand the entire student and all of the events that impact their lives. Gordon is a chess addict, runs a small business with his wife, and lives a family-first lifestyle to the best of his ability.

“Fear and uncertainty are often the first steps on the road towards personal growth.” ― Dee Waldeck

There is no need to explain in great detail the obvious, but because of COVID-19, we are venturing into uncertain educational times. This is causing many people fear, anxiety and discomfort. Parents learn just how much a teacher really does in the day. Students struggle to stay focused when there is less structure and more distractions. Teachers have to learn a new way to teach that requires new skills that many do not yet possess. However, with great uncertainty comes great opportunity.

With COVID-19, things have a potential to drastically change and we should seize upon this opportunity for schools to drastically change as well. We have a chance to reimagine schools in a way that can break the mold of what we have known it to be. We can put things in place that have previously been thought of as too far out to be workable or realistic.

One thing that research has shown over and over again is that children thrive in consistent and safe environments. Now, that environment has been shattered for many of our students because school has been closed for the remainder of the school year in Virginia. This very well could lead to trauma for many of our students, which will negatively impact their learning and their greater life as a whole.

In his address announcing school closures to the state, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said we would potentially see a rise in alcoholism, domestic abuse, and other maladies of society for which our children pay a huge price. These evils will prey upon our students, and their outcomes will be displayed in our classrooms when they open again. We need to be ready to tackle this issue in a systemic way that provides support for our students, so we can mitigate the effects of this pandemic.

One teacher I know was talking with one of her students who said something to the effect of she felt like my life was over and that no one cares. This student had built her personal dream of what her last months of high school would be like, and just like that, poof, those dreams of happiness, experiencing the rites and rituals of graduation, sharing the collective story of angst with friends who she cannot see any more are gone. How are we to help this student navigate her trauma of her dream life being taken from her? What do we do for the children who will lose loved ones to this disease? What about those who experience any of the evils Governor Northam mentioned? What about those who internalize the anxiety of uncertainty that this is putting on everyone?

One proposal is for the schools to reimagine how they utilize counselors. When a traumatic event hits the school as a whole, counselors are able to be on hand and help students who are showing signs of trauma and help them work through those intense feelings. Well, we are about to have massive signs of trauma from our students. With the next time we will see our students being at the beginning of a brand new school year, it provides us with an opportunity to address these traumas and the plethora of other traumas in our students’ lives from a systemic approach.

What if along with the other related arts and electives, we took one period each day that was built into the daily schedule and addressed this trauma? What if we had trained counselors, social workers, and other mental health professionals lead classes addressing how to deal with trauma? These classes would not need parental consent because we are not holding group and discussing the individual students’ mental health concerns but rather discussing and describing mental health concerns, the symptoms of it, and ways to deal with it. The healing and increased self-awareness comes through the students’ own personal reflections on the discussed topics. What if we could put into place an integrated program with a professionally developed curriculum that would address trauma, build coping skills, and improve resilience in our children? And hey, why not offer it to our teachers as well because they need it too. The benefits for the community and for society as a whole would be immense not only socially, but also educationally. We need to seize this opportunity borne of fear and uncertainty to prod public education into some personal growth that will benefit all.


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