“Back to the Basics”: Student Resilience in Challenging Times
by Tamara E. Davis
As a former school counselor, now a counselor educator, and married to an assistant principal, I worry about how our world is influencing our children. They have so much, but they see so much, and many of them need so much…how do educators provide for all of the things students need that they probably do not get anywhere else in their lives?
Sometimes, I think we try to make it too hard. What if we went back to a simpler, gentler time? This was brought home to me by an incredible experience that happened in my husband’s intermediate school. Record-breaking snowfall during February 2010 resulted in a roof collapse in their school building, displacing 1000 fifth- and sixth-grade students for the remainder of the academic year. What followed was nothing short of a miracle. Two local churches (one that sat adjacent to an abandoned middle school now used for church events and the other with a large educational facility adjacent to the chapel) stepped up to offer their buildings to house the students, one grade level in each building.
The community pitched in with donations of supplies, money, and other needed items so that the students only lost one week of instruction. The teachers rallied, teaming up with other educators in their grade levels; they were happy to have a place to go. The theme became “back to the basics” as the teachers taught without textbooks, for the most part, and worked together to develop curriculum to support the standards established by the state in math, language arts, science, and social studies. No computers, no frills—just teaching.
The results were actually quite surprising. With a focus on learning in the “core four,” the students’ standardized test scores actually increased in almost every category. Despite being displaced from their building and all of the chaos brought by altered bus schedules and a new facility, the students actually thrived…a true testimony to the resilience of students and school personnel.
One of the teachers in my husband’s school told me how much she loved the experience, despite the initial stress and anxiety about how they were going to teach the students. “It was like we were one big happy family and they just put us in a room and said, ‘Teach,’ so that’s what we did.”
I think it all comes down to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In those crowded classrooms, students felt safe, protected, and cared for; it was an environment that cultivated success.
The students and teachers went back to their building at the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year. Although they’re happy to be back in their regular space—with their bus service, cafeteria, textbooks, and other educational resources available to them—I am told that some of last year’s students come back to their teachers and say, “Remember when we all got to be together in that other school? That was fun.” Out of the mouths of babes: Simple, solid, basic. Lessons learned.
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