Back in the Classroom: Helping Students Process the COVID-19 & School Closure Experience

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Back in the Classroom: Helping Students Process the COVID-19 & School Closure Experience

You might assume that when schools start up again, everything goes back to "normal," the way things were before. Although much remains surprisingly the same, the reality is that students have been away from their classroom for months; they have not had the opportunity to socialize with friends or interact face-to-face with their teachers for a long time. In addition to lack of socialization, add the uncertainty that the global pandemic has brought upon us all.

Over the past few weeks, our Early Childhood through Grade 12 students have returned to campus, according to the government-mandated staggered start schedule. Everyone - students, teachers, staff, and parents, realize how fortunate we all are to be able to experience having them back on campus before the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

Though our students have re-adapted remarkably well, returning to school has meant adapting to new safety protocols and social distancing measures, all while processing what they have gone through in the past few months. For some, questions linger.

Here are three examples of how teachers across our divisions are supporting students in making sense of everything, to ease the transition back to school. 

Elementary School

Some teachers have helped students understand handwashing and social distancing through science. In Virginia de Leon's 2nd grade class, students, upon returning to school and the new social distancing measures, began with two Mystery Science questions: " How do germs get in our bodies? "and, "How does hand sanitizer kill germs?" From there, students learned that germs could be bacteria or viruses. The class talked about crosscutting concepts in science -- Cause and Effect as well as Structure and Function and how this affects viruses. 

3D models created by students in grade 2 as they learned about the school's new social distancing measures and why they are important.

Students learned that for a virus to survive, it has to replicate itself in a host. If there is no host, i.e., if we maintain social distancing, the virus has nowhere to go. Together with their teachers, grade 2 students concluded that they can be heroes, protecting the ones they care for, by washing their hands and maintaining social distancing. 

To further help students make sense of what has been happening around them, grade 2 teachers used the book "My Hero is You! How Kids Can Fight COVID-19!" from the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (which includes WHO, UNICEF, and the CDC) as a read-aloud.

Students in grade 2 created drawings of viruses to better understand them.

After all of their newly acquired knowledge, students later created 2D and 3D models of viruses. From their ongoing lessons, students have concluded that hand washing and social distancing are actually acts of love and caring since we all want to take care of our friends and loved ones and keep everyone safe and healthy.

Middle School

For Middle Schoolers, the new social distancing protocols and increased health and safety measures are relatively simple to adhere to and understand. However, many students have instead been dealing with many mixed emotions during their time away. Even though they are thrilled to be back in school, and together with their friends again, some also feel angry or annoyed at the reality of the changes in their lives, brought on by the pandemic.

"It is important that students understand how to cope in times like these," says teacher, Erin Johnson. "That's why the class has focused a lot on positive journaling activities, and time to talk and connect. Read-alouds are also great; for 20 minutes, the students can be immersed in someone else's world and forget everything else. "

 Positive thinking helps students in grade 6 focus on what they still have. "Changed, Stayed the Same" is one such journaling exercise.

Another thing that Ms. Johnson says has been very helpful for her students is using analogies to describe the changes they've faced during the past three months. One analogy to help students process this upcoming summer break (and its travel restrictions) likens it to ordering takeout and not getting what you thought you ordered. For example, you decide you want a pepperoni pizza with extra cheese because that's what you always get, and you love it. The delivery guy comes and gives you a salad, and you're like, "What?! I wanted pizza!" And the delivery guy says, "Hey, don't complain. At least you have dinner." We'll all get our summer break, even if it may not be the one we initially wanted.

Already during Virtual School, Erin Johnson's students spent time reflecting on positive things via the online tool, Padlet. 

Ms. Johnson emphasizes that it's important to be honest with middle schoolers and to reaffirm their emotions. It's okay to be sad and angry. But the students also realize that this is not a place we can stay forever and that eventually, it is important to look for ways to cope and to appreciate and acknowledge the small joys.

High School

In Mr. Nomer Adona’s Art 2 class, high school students complete four units of inquiry-based learning, individually crafting their investigations for each unit.

As Virtual School came to an end, students had recently started the fourth, and final unit, “Art & the Wider World.” In discussions with Mr. Adona, students looked at their wider world and determined that they wanted to find a way to pay tribute to the people putting their lives on the line for COVID-19.

The fragmentation technique aims to show how frontline workers are "facing threats, even falling apart in order to save our lives", Vy Vy ('22)

With this task at hand, each student chose their image development strategy and what medium they wanted to use. "Students have many interpretations of who the frontliners are," shares Mr. Adona. "Each student chooses how to represent them. It's up to them," he continues. But that, he adds, is also the point of the exercise. It is remarkable to see the many ways that the students, ranging from grades 10 to 12, have chosen to pay tribute to the frontline workers in their art.

Anime/manga-inspired painting "..symbolizing the metaphoric power and strength the frontliners carry to fight the virus..." Brandon ('22) 

Although the methods may vary, students, regardless of grade level, will need support and guidance to process what they've experienced during the months away from campus, as a result of COVID-19. As with all major challenges in life, finding ways to deal with them are a key component to our wellbeing.

We are ever so grateful to our teachers who always find creative and supportive ways to ensure that our students' social-emotional health, an essential part of a healthy "balance in life" and one of our core values, remains a living part of our curriculum.

*Story cover image by Yenny ('21) whose fragmentation of five different faces aims to represent that it is nurses and doctors all around the world who are helping us, not just one country or race. 

Author: Tanya Olander
Communications Officer


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