As we work our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re left with a million questions about what it means to actually take care of kids in our school communities. How do we respond to their isolation and trauma from the last 18-plus months? How do we support them better than we supported kids before we went into lockdowns?
Host Zakiya Sankara-Jabar hosted her fourth and final panel this week in the #SeekingCommonGround series of virtual town halls. The panelists, Robin Lake of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, Dr. Cierra Kaler-Jones of the Communities for Just Schools Fund (CJSF), educator and Atlanta School Board candidate Jason B. Allen, and Allen’s student Jovan Manning, brought their stories, their own heartbreak, and their solutions to the broadcast.
Watch #SeekingCommonGround below or over at our Facebook page.
Getting Creative For Kids
Students around the country have not had a normal 18 months, that’s for sure. Their friends and teachers became little else than faces on screens, their home lives may have been disrupted by losing loved ones to the coronavirus, and so many other extra stressors tried their best to take over our kids.
Dr. Kaler-Jones knows it’s been a lot.
“They are holding just so much. There is so much continued, collective grief,” she said.
Not all kids have been affected in the same way, noted Robin Lake. She said depression, anxiety and suicide rates had already been on the rise in young people before the pandemic, and it’s only gotten worse. “Rates are even higher among girls,” Lake said.
“The pandemic affected every kid differently,” Lake continued. “We have to recognize that and plan for it.”
Most schools have welcomed back their students in buildings this year. Atlanta student Jovan Manning spoke to his experience.
“Before we even came to school they tried to make sure we were able to have our mental health together, if we needed help,” Manning said, noting it’s only the beginning of addressing what he and his classmates actually require. “But that’s the only transition period we’ve had.”
Allen laid out the stakes of why things are so hard for students right now.
Speaking as an adult educator, Allen said, “It’s really hard to lose a student during the pandemic and not be able to have a funeral for them.” But his focus is on the kids who lost their peers.
What are some of the actual solutions? Turns out there are many.
The two biggest ones came from Allen, and they have the added bonus of being completely free.
Allen said he has found “the art of storytelling” to be his biggest help in addressing his students’ emotional recovery from the pandemic. He sets up situations for his kids to discuss the stories of the world around them and lets them work their way through their feelings and emotions.
But mainly, Allen wants everyone in every situation—not just in classrooms—to return to the concept of grace. Showing it to each other and themselves, recognizing the humanity in others during what remains a terribly difficult time in human history.
“Giving each other grace is free, it’s feasible,” he said.
When it comes to using the new funding made available by the American Rescue Plan earlier this year, the panelists went all in on boosting art education.
While the arts are harder to quantify in our testing- and data-driven age, every panelist brought up the healing aspects of art, which can upset those making the curriculum at the top.
“I think people are afraid of what arts education can actually provide for students,” said Dr. Kaler-Jones.
But it’s more than just art, as student Manning pointed out.
“We can add meditation and gardens and peer mediators to work out issues between students,” he said, describing a more holistic approach to his and his classmates’ social-emotional health.