By: Sarah Said
I am a mother. I am a wife. I am an Educator who thrives on being a Change Maker for the betterment of the lives of the students I serve. As I am writing this,I haven’t left my home in the suburbs of Chicago for fourteen days. I have been ordering groceries via Amazon and Target delivery like many Americans during this time and rationing what I have in my freezer. In front of my own kids, my mindset is that “we are home and safe”. Yes we are, and I am grateful for that. I tell them that we are doing our part to keep others safe. As Americans, this is our way to help our first responders, medical professionals, and scientists flatten the curve. It is the right thing to do.
But, quietly my heart is heavy…
I had to tell my daughter that there is a good chance that our month of Ramadan will be spent at home distancing ourselves from people. Yes, we will do crafts, make Middle Eastern sweets, and have prayer in our house with the mosque via live streaming video. That’s the plan for us if Ramadan comes and we are still fighting this virus as a community. Ramadan is a time that really brings the Muslim community I live and our families together. This was so difficult for me, but I smiled and told her it’s okay. And it will be for my child. My child is safe, completing her E-Learning at home, very entertained by me and well fed.
Who I Support and Need to Reach
In my role as a Director of Language and Equity programs, I serve children of families who are largely impacted by this crisis. Some are children of health care professionals from doctors to certified nurse’s assistants. And there are others who have parents that work as Amazon drivers, grocery store clerks, and work as drive through cashiers in fast food restaurants. They are on the front lines taking care of everyone’s needs, and putting themselves and families at risk as the nation goes through this. Then, I have students who have parents who are unemployed at this time and are worrying about their next paycheck. E- Learning at times is not on their minds, paying the rent and eating is priority. I serve Multilingual Learners from a variety of demographic groups and they are all affected in different ways.
There are some cases where I am still in touch with the students I serve and their families, they’re responding to the check-ins on Google forms I have created, they are regularly messaging me on Talkingpts, I’m making phone calls and assuring needs are met… the walls of being an administrator who doesn’t give out my phone number have come down…but there are some families I just haven’t reached. Our school has multiple ways to assure parents get communication as needed. Yet, some parents do not have the means to get those messages. In the past, I would have gotten into my car and done a home visit…but now what??? At times, I see that I need to be even more creative with my next steps before I hit a brick wall. This is a lot of us in our field.
Sorting Out Emotions
Usually, I write blogs and articles from a standpoint of expertise. Yes, I know how to engage Multilingual students and their families. It’s something I pride myself in. But in this piece I will be the real voice in saying that I’m losing sleep, lots of sleep. I average around three to four hours a night. I’m a mess… At night when my kids and husband are sleeping, I cry. I cry for a lot of reasons. I cry because of the fear of the unknown. We don’t know what is in store for my own family, our students’ families and the communities that we serve. But I remember that crying and being emotional will not solve this pandemic. We all need to remember this.
Plowing Through This Mentally
I pull it together, and I keep on truckin’ during the day and I do what I can from my home. I’m doing my best to assure that the needs of Multilingual Learners are being met during our E-Learning time. I do this by supporting teachers virtually who are having to create content for students. And, I have plans for students to support them in listening, speaking, reading and writing. We figured out what to do online to support learning and what to do with students that don’t have internet at home. But, we don’t know if it’s the best plan, but it does get better by the week.
I send emails … sometimes too many of them… to my staff to tell about resources out there that they can use. A staff member had to remind me that I was sending too many emails and I had to tone it down. We’re doing what we can, but we don’t want to overwhelm people on our teams.
There are certain kids I worry about. Are they eating? Are they sleeping? Are they doing the E-Learning work? We have to keep updating and tweeking plans for communication and learning because the best laid out plans were not ready for a situation like this. Really, who was?
So, What Advice Can I Give At This Point?
- All communication needs to have native language components. As an institution, the ability to communicate in our families’ native language has helped ease alot of the process for them.
- Be ready to direct families to community resources. With the support of community members and people in our county regional office, I have been able to do this from my living room and cell phone.
- Have a plan for distributing resources- food and E-Learning materials. My school has done this very well and systematically.
- E-Learning needs to be beneficial, but don’t overwhelm families with hours of tedious work to do. When a family is just trying to survive, your English assignment may not be the top priority of the day. You have to understand that.
- Try to build community with your family via Twitter and Talkingpts. I have given virtually story times in English and Spanish for our students. We also have students sending us pictures of what they are doing on E-Learning.
- Do whatever you can as a school to bring normalcy to home. Provide whatever recreational activities or community building activities the school would provide via internet.
- Send home letters to students telling them you miss them. A letter goes a long way. Put a self addressed stamped envelope in the letter so the student and family have an easy way of writing you back. Yes, it will cost you some money, but for me, that’s okay as long as I know the students I serve have their needs being met.
From the Experience…
I’m not going to cite any research because there isn’t any on how to deal with this pandemic as a school. Let’s be real here… We, as educators, are the research in “real time”… We are learning about all of this as we move along.
In the moment, what I do see is that as a nation, we need to do more to bridge the gap, the equity gap. The inequities we see are continuing to loom over us as a darker cloud than they ever have. In the past, I have had people, who have been very bold, tell me that poverty doesn’t matter when it comes to a child’s ability to learn. This situation shows that the resources are not available for all. And our high poverty families need the most support we can five them right now. For those families who are newer to the country, more needs to be done to assure that their children have the tools at home that they need in order to be successful in school. Yes, it does matter. It all matters. It just doesn’t glare us in the face until a pandemic hits us.
What will I say? As a society, we need to do more for all families to connect them more to our communities. Our families are resilient when it comes to the education of their children, they just need the tools and connections to support them.
Readers, thank you for letting me sort out my heart and pour it all over your screen. Let’s go out there and do more!
|SARAH SAID is the Director of Language and Equity Programs at an EL Education School in the Chicago Suburbs. In her role, she oversees support programs for Multilingual Learners, works with others to create a community that fosters success for students from the diverse communities her school serves, helps strengthen school to community outreach, and coordinates Title grants. In the past, she has been a Director of ELL, Dean and Curriculum Coordinator. In addition to her role in her building, she is a Re-imagining Migration fellow, a contributor for ELL Confianza and has written a variety of blog posts online. She is a member of the #ELLChat and #ELLchat_bkClub where she helps advocate for Multilingual Learners. Follow her on Twitter at @MrsSaid.|