As we continue planning for the 2020-2021 academic year, our district faces many new challenges. The practical decisions that need to be made regarding the safety of students, staff, faculty and our community are innumerable. However, it’s important that as we consider the physical and logistical precautions and protocols for school re-entry, we remain cognizant of the social and emotional impacts COVID-19 has, and continues to have, on our school family.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, students turned to schools for routine and consistent provision of food, shelter, companionship, and support; and that’s all in addition to the academic lessons, character development, and career planning that comes with public education. As we look toward a new academic year, it is increasingly apparent that the dynamics within each classroom will become more complex and multifaceted. For the last several months, students have been isolated from friends, activities, and experiences. They have, in many cases, done away with routines as they navigated a world that changes from day to day. They have experienced many uncertainties and have maneuvered through unknown variables in order to live as close to “normal” as possible. When you add new anxieties about basic needs like food and shelter or the health of friends, family, and self to previous conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, depression, etc. you have a melting pot of social and emotional concerns. So how are we, the educators of St. James School District, preparing to address these needs?
First and foremost, the administrative team remains in continual contact with local health agencies. They are maintaining an active conversation about the implications of school re-entry so that decisions are based on current information. Second, we have continued to share professional development opportunities with staff that focus on strategies for supporting students as they navigate these unprecedented experiences. The St. James School District is actively working to provide a Trauma-Informed environment to students that focuses on the whole student, not just academics. Our staff knows that before a student can learn, he/she must feel safe and supported. District leadership is continually working to provide the resources and support needed to make this safe environment a reality for all students. In addition, leadership teams are working to make sure that our employees feel safe and supported. This goes back to the old adage “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Teachers and staff are encouraged to practice self-care strategies so they are at their best when students return.
There are several exciting developments in St. James Schools for the upcoming year. The Middle School will now have 2 counselors – and a therapy dog, Yoshi! The District now has a Virtual Calming Room! Students, staff, and families can now access many anxiety-reducing activities from one location. The site includes mindfulness activities, virtual tours, live animal cameras, puzzles, games, and more. This resource can be used in the school setting or at home to help students alleviate anxiety and to provide a distraction from stressors. The school counseling team will work with teachers to provide socio-emotional support and learning activities that will help students learn to cope with and manage the chaos of current circumstances. Counselors in each building will work diligently to address individual student needs while working with teachers to provide blanketed support to the student body as a whole. Students who choose to attend school virtually will have access to both the counselors and resources via Canvas, Google Classroom, Seesaw, the counseling websites, video conferencing, and email. Our goal is to make sure each student knows their individual needs are recognized and that we are doing our best to support them.
In a world that changes from one day to the next, it can be difficult to plan a detailed step-by-step plan for the return to school. However, the St. James School District has tackled this challenge head-on and continues to pursue the best options for students. Through on-going communication, continued learning, and collaboration, St. James Schools will provide the structure, patience, and compassion necessary for students to feel safe at school. This will provide a fertile environment for growing tomorrow’s leaders!