As of today, the world as we once knew it has changed. Depending on where in the world you live, your country has had its way-of-life altered for at least the last seven months. All persons around the world have had their lives impacted in some way. Are you a parent? Do you have nieces and/or nephews? How was the transition for them to learning solely online? I am going to guess that there were some challenges and some frowning faces – we all had to adjust in some way. For at-risk students, I dare say they had the biggest adjustment of all students.
Let me take a moment to set the parameters of my personal definition of an at-risk student. I am very intrigued by intersectionality and how different areas of our lives collide to make our individual experiences. For me, at-risk students are those most likely to drop out of school, graduate late or not at-all. These student have an array of factors that affect their ability to remain present: lower parental socioeconomic status, little to no parental involvement, learning disabilities, food insecurity, lack of experience or exposure to technology, lack of resources, unstable home life that does not foster health, hope, resilience, self-regulation, or academic achievement. I hope to write more in depth about these factors in the future.
I am a big proponent of nurture over nature and truly believe that your environment plays a major role in setting the stage for success or failure. Throughout life, once an individual is school age, the classroom becomes the main environment for learning. An educator is now in charge of molding minds. He or she works to ensure that his/her classroom is a welcoming and save space for all students to learn and thrive. However, at-risk students enter their classrooms daily saddled by the many burdens of home life. These undue worries have created additional challenges for learning, causing many students to struggle, develop slower than their peers, some fall behind, and others develop behavioral problems. As an educator, you might agree with some of this, all of this, or none of this.
I want you to take a moment to consider that though they struggle while at school, it is a place of escape for many. This is the place they are sure of a nutritious meal, they have access to internet connection and devices, they talk to those they think of as friend, they might even have connected with one adult at school that they confide in and feel safe around. This one adult might be their only advocate or the one person that does not label them as a mischief-maker.
Now, back to the pandemic. The shift in our way of life as resulted in the new norm of social-distancing, masks, and online learning. A student who once had a place of escape (school) is now trapped within the four walls of what might seem like a complete nightmare for some. They are now always at home, away from human contact (outside of family members), and for some, worrying when their next nutritious meal might come. It might be that they have younger siblings they are now tasked with taking
care of for a longer time during the day. Their classroom might also be their bedroom, living room, and dining room. I do not know about you, but for me, it is difficult to be confined to the same location looking at the same four walls. Now, we have students who struggled in the classroom with a teacher present, having to learn virtually in a space that is not the most conducive to successful learning.
Children should never have to shoulder the worries of life. However, at-risk students are often deprived the opportunity of a childhood afforded many of their peers. I want to challenge you during these uncertain times to simply- give a little grace! I am not talking about pity but empathy. Be mindful of your students’ demeanor on google classroom or a zoom session. Incorporate mindfulness activities at the beginning of classes to help students be present in the moment. Get creative with you teaching that allows students to feel like they are still in the classroom. Talk with a student outside of class about not having their video on, for all you and I know, they might not feel presentable because mom or dad has been unable to get their hair done. Think of how you would like to be treated and extend that to your students. They might not be adults, but they are human beings with feelings too. Do not buy into labeling them as mischievous or unconsciously decide that they are not worth your time. Be patient. Be kind. Help your students build resilience virtually.
“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” ~ Anne
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