After March 13th, when we are all ordered into quarantine as a result of this pandemic, I was truly worried for my kids. When colleagues have asked how my kids are doing, I'm honest in saying that they are doing the best they can and my staff are working harder than ever to engage them. We're not just able to work our magic like we used to...
For many, coming to school is a refuge from the realities of home life and consistent, regular access to mental health support services. It entailed being met by the morning welcome wagon, and hearing messages that people were glad to see them and hoped that they had a great day. Sometimes, it means sneaking into the kitchen with a teacher or support staff for an bowl of cereal or bite of fruit because there was nothing on the dinner table the night before. It's entering the building and without saying a word, someone has figured out that something horrible has happened and the fact that no school work was getting done that day wasn't going to be the end of the world. Hugs for consolations... High fives in celebration... Joy found in laughter... It doesn't translate well through a screen.
Part of my mandate when I arrived at this school was to grow the program. In doing that, I also wanted to help cultivated a culture of trust and openness, centred on our Catholic values. I didn't want the kids to ever feel like they were being judged for their circumstances or their choices. I hoped that our school was a place where kids could seek redemption by accepting themselves and achieving in a manner that was worthy of them. That's why "buy-in" to this sort of program is so critical. Parents have to accept that their son or daughter needs something different, be it for a temporary time or perhaps long-term. Kids need to recognize that what they are doing just isn't working for them and their present school environment can't give them what they need. Staff have to come into their respective roles fully understanding the role they play in contributing to this sort of culture of learning and that their actions, words and attitudes must reflect these values not only in personal dealings with their students but in how they deliver curriculum as well.
Just before the March Break, I asked the kids for some feedback. What I love most about our kids is that they never hold back and I think they have come to know I appreciate their brutal honesty because I have a habit of responding. These are just a few samples:
I could not have been more pleased when I read through all of them. Mine are kids who also could have just as easily responded that at no time did they feel like someone had shown them any kindness but almost every student was able to identify at least one thing that mattered deeply to them. They were responded to anonymously so I displayed them all because I wanted my staff to see the impact they were making. In our profession, we don't always no if we are reaching our kids. We're hard on ourselves if kids aren't doing well academically. In our school, we have come to appreciate the importance of prioritizing wellness and relationships. Credits are eventually earned. Behaviour shifts. Everyone is transformed. For the first time in their careers I believe my staff is witnessing first-hand how much of a privilege it truly is to work in a school where students succeed BECAUSE of the caring adults. Many students start to see themselves differently because for the first time, they don't have to deal with reputations and preconceived notions. Some days, they come to school at their worst and yet, they recieve all the love they got the day before.
It's been a challenge to say the very least to convey all of our love and concern through virtual platforms but we have all tried to adapt the technology on hand to stay connected. Staff are using Google Meet more and more to teach and for wellness checks. I post a video message for my kids every Monday in every Google Classroom that my teachers have set up. Our CYWs create weekly videos of examples of how to practice self-care. As a staff, we agreed that seeing our faces serves as a sort of continuity of the culture of care that we have worked so hard to establish.