How Can I Help?
Supporting students and staff amid racialized incidents
A message from our Executive Director Amalio Nieves
Good Morning Team DSES,
I hope all of you are doing well. Recent events over the past week have been for me personally concerning and heart-wrenching. By now, I am sure many of you have read the message our Superintendent Dr. Williams. One of the pieces that resonated with me in his statement was, “This is why as a school system we have and will continue to focus on equity for all students and schools in Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS). This means we will advocate for tools to close the educational gaps and provide access to resources for all our students. We will also continue to have direct and honest conversations about institutional racism and practices in BCPS and how we can break down these barriers that have existed far too long.”
As a person of color and as I’ve reflected on my own personal, local and immediate experiences this past week and look out from my apartment and reflect upon the events unfolding in Baltimore and across the nation, and as I’ve heard from others, I feel “exhausted.” At times like this, I feel paralyzed by inaction; but when I hear of and see your efforts, I am encouraged and become more courageous. I know many of you, and your teams, have done a great amount of equity work and that you continue to engage your teams in deep reflection, conversations and personal work around institutional racism, our system practices, and the closing of opportunity and achievement gaps for our students. Now, more than ever, it is critical that we continue to engage our teams and others in these conversations and not be sidetracked by individuals who believe “this is not my problem” or agendas that will try to shift or distract us from the real conversations that need to be had. In support of this effort, every school in BCPS needs to be welcoming, respectful and safe for our students. Every classroom should be a place of engagement and authentic learning for our young people. It is our role within the Department of Social Emotional Support leadership to promote and create the conditions where we can guarantee that every school leader, every teacher, every support staff, every staff member feels the same passion and has the knowledge and capacity to create this vision for every student in BCPS.
We have a tremendous opportunity at this time to lead and be bold, creative, and innovative. It is also an opportunity for us to disrupt many of the long-held beliefs, mindsets and practices that continue to marginalize our students of color. We must ensure that we provide, promote and ensure for the social and emotional development and well-being of our students and that equity remains at the forefront of our work. As we look forward to welcoming our students back from continuity of learning and as we collectively look to address systemic racism, Team BCPS is looking at us for guidance and direction.
We all have the privilege and responsibility to lead this important work. I am proud that we have a team of great leaders who are committed to doing what is right and just for our students, our leaders, and our communities!
Experts in conversation with parents and educators.
Police killings and their spillover effects on the mental health of black Americans: a population-based, quasi-experimental study
Starting the Conversation with Students
Our students may have a negative educational impact as they engage in social media, watch T.V. or have conversations at home. Students need our guidance and support in trying to cope with the violence and unrest. Students and staff may feel sad, scared or worried. Others may feel numb or even happy to be alive and safe. Reaction to traumatic events can be had by those directly impacted, as well as by friends and family of victims, first responders, and people learning about the event from the news. Feeling stressed before or after the traumatic event is normal.
Remember open, thoughtful communication with your students will help comfort and reassure them. Help your students talk about the event by letting them know that it is normal to feel worried or upset. Try to listen carefully and understand what they are really trying to say. Help younger children use works like “angry” and “sad” to express their feelings. The following guidelines can help:
Statement for teachers to read:
- Most of you know by now of the violence that has taken place ____________. Many of you may have been watching the news and have questions or might be feeling upset or worried. As your teacher, I wanted to stop my regular classwork for a few minutes to discuss any questions you may have about this very sad event.
- We are all feeling shocked and upset by these terrible events. It is normal when we hear of such events to feel afraid for our own safety and the safety of the people we care about.
- We may find it hard to concentrate on our daily activities and to understand why this has happened. Our administrators, as always, are watching carefully to make sure that our schools are safe.
Teachers must be vigilant in their interactions with students. Teachers cannot project their own opinions or beliefs. Students will be watching staff very closely to evaluate their reactions. We must model and maintain a sense of calm and control. Our reaction shapes the children’s responses. Be aware of our own feelings.
Typical Processing Questions:
- Did any of you see the news casts?
- Did any of you see anything else about which you may have questions?
- What are some thoughts you have about this event?
- What could we do as individuals or a class or school to promote peace?
Process the student’s concern about their own safety. If they have questions about the events, tell them that we do not have all of the information and facts at this point, but that we are interested in their feelings and safety. Reinforce that schools are very safe places. Reassure them that we do everything we can to make sure that they are safe.
Expect questions that have no answers. Be careful that you do not allow blame on any race, culture, or religion. Move the children through this discussion and return them to school work in order to have them focus on something other than this event. Returning to actual school work will give students a sense of normalcy and control.
Allow students to engage in the following activities as developmentally appropriate and the needs of your building:
All levels: As a class students can generate ideas of living in a peaceful world. Students can draw a picture or journal. Students may use various art forms and mediums. A bulletin board in a classroom can be dedicated to posting statements of peace and incorporating famous quotes from leaders for tolerance.
An exercise to help you feel grounded in times of emotional stress and turmoil
Sit on a chair, feel your feet on the ground, press on your thighs, feel your behind on the seat, and your back supported by the chair; look around you and pick six objects that have red or blue. This should allow you to feel in the present, more grounded and in your body. Notice how your breath gets deeper and calmer. You may want to find a peaceful place to sit.
Source: Emotional First Aid, Gina Ross, MFCC, and Peter Levine, Ph.D.
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Outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.