Category: HOS Blog

Thank You, Teachers

I’ve been thinking a lot about learning today. I happen to be a person who loves learning new things. I always loved school—no doubt why I find myself leading one—and my teachers (or at least most of them). Even after finishing my Ph.D., I find myself often thinking about all the new things that I would want to go back to school and study. But, even for me, the amount of learning required since the COVID-19 crisis began has been an exhausting challenge. I didn’t use Google Hangouts or Chat regularly before. I never scheduled virtual meetings on Google Meet or Zoom. I had never tried to teach a guided reading class online. I never ran staff meetings online, and I certainly never had to manage meetings with my dog and family members around. Most of us are being asked to learn a lot right now and can be thankful if we are fortunate enough to have teachers of all kinds (including kids) who are willing to help us.

This morning, as I led our team’s morning huddle, I shared with the group how I had been noticing that most Facebook posts, television conferences, and news updates never mentioned teachers as one of the important community responders during the COVID-19 crisis. I haven’t seen people thanking teachers for their continued and important work with students and families day after day, even as they care for their own families and try to teach their own children. I know that teachers are not serving on the frontlines at hospitals, but day after day, they enter homes and families through their online programs and platforms—the ones they have likely never used before—and are engaging with students and families during a time of crisis.

Teachers see and hear when students are struggling or hurt, when they don’t have food, or when they are scared or sick. Teachers hear about parents who are out of work or are afraid of losing their homes. Teachers have to balance being open and honest with students while also encouraging them to believe that we will get through challenges and obstacles. 

A great deal of research regarding secondary traumatic stress among teachers has been published in the last two years. Data shows that more than 50% of students in the U.S. have experienced trauma, and teachers often take on these traumas as they get to know students and families and as they engage students in social, emotional, and academic learning. Too often, teachers are not taught or supported in this work; they are not given the knowledge and tools they need to deal with the stress of trauma at school. At GVP, we are committed to providing teachers with the professional development and support they need to practice self-care and to take up trauma-informed and restorative practices with students inside and outside of school.

Today, teachers face additional challenges. They must figure out how to maintain strong, positive relationships with students when they can’t physically be near them; at the same time, they must figure out how to teach them using unfamiliar tools and technology. Our teachers at GVP have not practiced technology-mediated instruction or distance learning before. That is not typically recommended as a best practice for language learners. Our students have used technology for practice, assessments, and for some assignments, but our teaching takes place in small classes with lots of scaffolding, support, and social interaction. GVP’s instructional methodology is grounded in constructivism. We believe that learning is socially constructed in and through active participation and collaboration with others. Now, we are learning and practicing how to take up these same approaches in our virtual school model. 

One of our GVP Core Values is lifelong learning. This value is core to our work in community and is an important aspect of strengths-based learning. At GVP, we believe that all teachers are still students and all students are also teachers. We practice learning from and with each other and remember that each one of us comes with unique strengths, experiences, and knowledge to share and teach. If we accept that we are always learning, it releases us from the expectation of perfection and opens the door to risk-taking and trying new things—like we must do now. That same acceptance can prevent us from viewing some people as knowers and others as people who know nothing. I have seen our staff and teachers creatively coming together to teach and to learn over the past 10 days. They are generously sharing their knowledge and strengths and supporting each other in learning how to be a teacher in this new time.

We found out yesterday that local schools will remain closed at least until April 24. While it makes sense and really isn’t a surprise, it feels hard to fully grasp right now. I cannot help but wonder how our country and our community will have changed during that time. So much is changing so quickly.

Despite the challenges and all the changes, I am inspired by and deeply grateful for our teachers at GVP and for all the teachers like them who are logging in online each day or calling and emailing students and families during this time. I appreciate their efforts to maintain some sense of constancy in their students’ lives, their commitment to community and learning, and their work for the common good and for our future.

I invite you to continue learning with us and am sharing some online resources we have found helpful regarding trauma-informed care during COVID-19:

A Trauma-Informed Approach to Teaching Through Coronavirus | Teaching Tolerance
Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope With the Coronavirus Disease | The National Child Traumatic Stress Network 
Community Incident Response | Trauma Informed Oregon
"A trauma-informed approach to teaching through coronavirus — for students everywhere, online or not" | The Washington Post
"A psychologist’s science-based tips for emotional resilience during the coronavirus crisis" | The Washington Post 

Shine On

Yesterday and the day before were rainy and bleak around Atlanta. Somehow the darkness of the days made the stress of isolation and social distancing harder for me, and I imagine for others. With the rising cases of COVID-19, continued closures, and stay-at-home orders for the City of Atlanta and City of Decatur going into effect, the new realities loomed larger, especially as the rain and clouds shrouded the sun.

I thought about our GVP newcomer students and their families often on these dreary days and wondered how they were managing from moment to moment when they couldn’t even get outside and when I knew that I wasn’t faring well myself. They are certainly resilient and resourceful, but this is an enormous amount of stress for any person to process and cope with, and for each of them this new stress compounds existing stress and trauma related to loss, displacement, acculturation, language barriers, and poverty. All of the students at GVP qualify for Title I educational support services. All of the students and families at GVP have experienced some kind of trauma.

Thankfully, our GVP School Support Specialist reached out and called all of our school families on Monday and Tuesday. Many reported doing well and some were even celebrating—a birth and a marriage--but many more had questions, concerns about work and health, and wanted to know when things will return to “normal.”

Today, the sun is shining again. It’s a new day, and that sunlight makes all the difference for me. I am reminded of the power of light. At GVP, one of our favorite songs is “Shine On.” Written by Terri Garthwaite and taught to us by our amazing artist-in-residence, Elise Witt. The song speaks to light’s power to bring change, hope, peace, and love: 

I can see the light
Like a brand new day
Like a bolt of lightning
It takes my breath away.

I can hear the sound
Like a charmin’ bell
Like a soft reminder
All is well
I can feel the beat
Like the wings of a dove
Like a heart on fire
Full of the light of love.

Burnin’ bright, making day from night
It’s such a welcome sight, here comes the light
Here comes the light, here comes the sun
Here comes the heat–this is heaven!

Despite the challenges, despite the obstacles, the people in our global village shine on, and together we spread light in the darkness.

Global Village Project is a strengths-based school, and we use trauma-informed and restorative practices and holistic approaches in our learning community. GVP is also an arts-integrated school, and we embrace the arts as powerful tools for communication, creativity, and community building.  We aim to continue these practices now in our new online communities and believe these may make all the difference during these difficult times.  

GVP’s Social and Emotional Learning & Wellness Program is core to our work and one of the 4 main pillars that strengthen and support our model. Over the years, more and more educational research has shown that social integration and positive relationships are consistently the two most important factors in educational attainment and success. At GVP, we recognize that while we are dedicated to our mission of providing an excellent education for our students, we must also provide for their social and emotional well-being and growth. Students are humans first, who learn in and through community and relationships with others.

Well-being and social, emotional, and physical wellness are essential to learning. According to Maslow, social, emotional, and physical needs must be met in order for growth to occur and for a student to reach her greatest potential. GVP has been and remains committed to holistic education. Our School Counselor and SEL Coordinator is setting up group counseling sessions online and told us today that she is working to set up physical fitness groups as well.

For years at GVP, we have called our families when students were absent. We have hired interpreters for all of our intake interviews, enrollment days, and conferences so that we could communicate with parents. We have used buses to bring parents and conferences and events because we know that parents are powerful and essential parts of the school community. In this time, we will continue to do all that we can to support them as well. We will call each family every week, and we will continue to deliver food for as long as we are allowed. We will provide connections to resources and ensure that students and their families find community and help through our global village.

We are committed to making sure that what we do now reflects our core values, mission, and vision. We intend to shine on and invite you to join us in spreading “the light of love” in these days.

You can see and hear our GVP students singing “Shine On” below and view more videos on Ms. Elise’s website. I feel sure this will bring a little light to you today. 

 

A Time to Dream: Welcome to Dr. Amy’s Blog

For at least four years now, I have thought about starting a Head of School blog. When we updated our website last year, I thought I might finally get around to making it happen. Now, as we face new times and uncharted territories, it feels imperative to write, to document, and to learn—and to do it online.

Nations across the world are united in a fight against a novel coronavirus. This new day of social distancing requires a renewed commitment to the common good and to community, while at the same time physically separating us from one another. Now, we are forced to realize and utilize the power of technology to transform our ways of living, learning, and relating to one another. Some, like me, are being pushed into new ways in these new days.

One week ago today, our school was bustling with students, teachers, administrative staff, and health volunteers. We worked together to prepare GVP students for the changes ahead and the challenges to come. We practiced logging into new iPads and programs for learning. We talked about homework packets and flu prevention. We ate together, sang together, and sent students home on the buses with plenty of materials and supplies for at-home learning, as well as new thermometers for monitoring wellness and can openers for coming food deliveries. We called each family at home and spoke with parents about what was happening and what they might expect. Then on Friday, staff members delivered food and additional supplies to students and families from our GVP school buses. They checked in with students and picked up completed homework packets. This act of care and connection reinforced our ongoing commitment to students and their families in and out of school.

Today, the school is empty, but we have made it through our first week of the COVID-19 crisis with a focus on flexibility and lifelong learning and a commitment to our mission and community. As a school devoted to serving refugee young women with limited English and interrupted education, we do things differently. Our unique mission and model makes us even more determined to do all that is necessary to provide powerful education in these times, despite the challenges.

There has been recent debate online around issues of equity and educational justice, as schools have closed and nearly 8 million students in the U.S. are missing out on school or moving to remote learning models. Some write about the impossibilities of equity for students with the greatest needs—those with learning differences and disabilities, those who are learning English, those who live in poverty and without access to technology, food, or shelter. There is genuine concern over the intersections of COVID-19, social justice, and education. Some argue that solutions such as online learning further exacerbate and accelerate the gaps between those who have and who do not. I even read a recommendation to end online schooling. While I do not disagree with the arguments made around the inequity of our present educational circumstances, I do also want to suggest that these are not new problems for us. Despite ongoing research and reform, inequity permeates our educational system in the U.S. leaving black and brown students and those living with poverty with consistently lower rates of graduation, college enrollment, and standardized test scores and consistently higher rates of discipline referrals and expulsion.

Educational disparities persist, and Global Village Project exists for these very reasons. The mechanisms for education are not equitable for students like ours at GVP. Refugees are five times more likely to be missing out on school than same age peers, and more than 130 million girls and young women are out of school everyday. Those who do make it to school too often are not provided the step up and the support that they need to succeed. More than 75% never graduate high school. Back in 2009, some very determined dreamers and courageous community members decided to do something completely different—to create a space for educational justice and equity in Decatur, Georgia. GVP is that place.

At GVP, we dream a world, one girl at a time. Over the past decade, we have supported the learning and changed the lives of more than 260 young women. When I think of what each one of these young women has done and will do, when I see the ripple effects of their dreams on our world, my hope for the future grows and I am reassured even in these unsure times. We cannot predict how the spread of coronavirus ultimately will affect schools, but at GVP we are committed to building up students and communities, to bright ideas and creative innovation, to promising practices, and to learning and sharing. I invite you to join our global village, stand in solidarity with our students and families, and dream with us a world where educational access and equity exist for all students.

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.
--Harriet Tubman