by Cindy Long
Stories are flooding social media from parents whose children are afraid of what the 2016 presidential election results might mean. One boy with Autism was crying because he saw Trump mocking a disabled person. A teenager who is gay is afraid of what he will do to the LGBT community. Muslim students are asking if they’re going to be safe; Latino students are asking if they will be deported.
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In partnership with parents America’s educators are offering support and a safe place for kids to talk about their concerns, like in Robert Ellis’ first grade classroom at Washington Elementary School in Richmond, California.
“I arrived this morning determined to provide these students with the support they need,” he says. “I’m not sure what the tone will be like over the course of the day, but I know they’re fearful. I’m going to reassure them that they are safe. I don’t want them to shoulder the burden of worry and concern.”
Ellis’ students, who are mostly from low-income and Hispanic families, have a very sophisticated understanding of government for a group of first graders. They’ve learned about the different branches and checks and balances, and Ellis will remind them that no one person can make the decisions that affect the country. They have to be agreed upon by different parts of the government and the voices of the citizenry.
“I’m also going to tell them that nothing is going to change overnight,” Ellis says. “I want them to feel safe. As educators, that’s what we do in difficult times.”
Demetrio Gonzalez, president of United Teachers of Richmond CTA/NEA acknowledges that in the wake of the election, there are students and kids hurting.
Throughout his district, many kids will go to school scared that it might be their last day in this country. Many kids will go to school scared that their parents will be sent back to their countries of origin. Some might feel defeated and broken.
The election results will have a traumatic experience on our students,” Ellis says. “The best thing we can do today is be there for them, talk to them about their experience, and listen.
Hold them and tell them we love them, and that in moments of uncertainty and fear, we have to hope and believe we will have a brighter tomorrow. We can reassure them that this country was built in the backs of people who persevere and people who have gone through struggle. Hold that sad student a little tighter and please do not forget to also take care of yourselves in your incredibly challenging roles, but remember that at times we are all they got.”
Talking to High School Students
Teaching tolerance and acceptance is a top priority for Fakhra Shah, a Muslim teacher at Mission High School in Oakland, California. When the election results became clear last night, she came up with tips and lessons for educators to use in high school classes where kids are from diverse backgrounds.
“I hope you will take the time to put all lessons aside and talk to students about what has happened and how they feel,” she says. “Let them say what is on their minds, this is crucial for our schools and our communities.”
Shah’s Class Discussion Tips
- The objectives of the discussion should be to let students express their concerns and voice their thoughts and feelings, gain feelings of empowerment and hope, and feel safe and respected.
- Ask students to speak one at a time and validate their feelings by saying things like, “What you are saying is valid,” or “I hear you,” “I support you and I understand you.” Let them speak, guide the discussion, and use a talking piece if necessary.
- Offer students hope and empowerment. Offer them opportunities to uplift themselves and their communities. Ask them what they would like to do or express. Can we come up with a plan to uplift our school community?
- Tell them that we demand justice and equality and we will keep on fighting for those rights.
- Tomorrow and every day must be a day of empowerment, hope and justice.
What Do We Tell the Children?
Tell them, first, that we will protect them. Tell them that we have democratic processes in the U.S. that make it impossible for one mean person to do too much damage, says a teacher writing for the Huffington Post.
Facilitating Difficult Conversations
How can we as educators best support our students as they process the results of this divisive political season? “Fostering Civil Discourse” is a free resource that offers strategies for establishing a safe space for sensitive topics, creating a classroom contract, providing opportunities for student reflection, and modeling respectful civil discourse.