Angela Farmer

DR. ANGELA FARMER

As the students tenuously return to the classroom this spring, it is paramount that everyone involved appreciate the uniqueness of this semester. While returning to school from the winter break is by no means unusual, returning to a climate where the coronavirus vaccine is beginning to be witnessed in select populations in unique. It is important to realize that students have been housed in their individual ecosystems since the fall term closed. Some have family climates where there remains an overarching fear of the pandemic. Perhaps they have lost family members. Other students may return entirely relaxed, devoid of any concerns of the virus or its impact. There are others whose concerns may reside somewhere in between these two.

However, in light of the anticipation for a more normal sort of semester, it is definitely worthwhile to congratulate all involved for their ingenuity, tolerance, and perseverance. The students have adapted to a restricted normal and still seem to offer an eagerness to return to their school communities. Whether covered in a superhero mask or a big smiley face mask, they are returning. They know to sanitize their hands and limit personal contact. They know to keep their desks clean and to respect personal spaces. What they need help with from the adults is to remember that they are children, forced to make some very unnatural adaptations. These alterations may mask their appearance, but they do not remove their individuality.

Students still need to know, perhaps now more than ever, that the educators recognize them and appreciate them. They need to feel welcomed back to the fold of their school environment in a way that reinforces their value in that system. Protection from the virus has cloaked individuals in a way that it is often difficult to recognize friends and neighbors. As they return to their classrooms, there are a variety of tools to expedite their welcome. For example, having desk signs with big name tags, fun door decorations, paper crowns with names, or silly bracelets to validate their identities, as both an individual as well as a member of the class, are key to helping ease the transition back to this new normalish spring semester.

There are also a number of excellent tools available to help students’ mental wellness as they head back into the fold. In order to effectively help students acclimate, there are websites like the Mentally Healthy Schools site which offers excellent ideas. One novel idea encourages a game called Piece of the Puzzle Activity to help students recognize what makes them unique and how they play a key role in their school community. It explains that it is normal to be a little stressed about returning to school and helps them focus. They are given a big puzzle piece to color and label with what makes them special. At the end of the activity, the teacher puts all the pieces together to make the classroom image, where each plays a critical role. A similar activity can be done where they label their hobbies or talents. There is even a collective approach were every child in the school is given a big puzzle piece shape to color and label, which is then assembled and put on display for all to see how the new puzzle is only complete when all the pieces work together. Within this large website are also ideas to get the conversation started with Sentence Starters. These are templates with subjects where the students each finish the sentence. This helps them recognize their feelings as well as supports the educators’ understanding of where the child may be struggling before a discipline infraction or an emotional outburst erupts. In this example, Sentence Starters include the following: I feel…, I wish…, I need…, I hope…, If I get upset I’ll try to… Collectively, these tools are proactive approaches to educate the whole child, balancing his mental wellness in order to reach him where he can actively engage in the learning process feeling safe and supported, even in these unfamiliar times.

Welcome back; it’s going to be a great semester!

DR. ANGELA FARMER is a lifelong educator, an author, and a syndicated columnist. She serves Mississippi State University as an Assistant Clinical Professor of Honors Education for the Shackouls Honors College where she can be reached at afarmer@honors.msstate.edu

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