Taytana Kleyn, professor at the City College of New York (CCNY) and co-author of Translanguaging With Multilingual Students: Learning from Classroom Moments, alongside Ofelia García, shares in this week’s Blog, a text written in the context of immigrant students in New York. Despite the fact that private bilingual schools in Brazil are mostly aimed at Brazilian students and expatriates, in which the languages used are, to a large extent, prestigious, the text fits our reality as Tatyana discusses the importance of addressing the socio-emotional well-being of students during emergency remote teaching. In this sense, all students deserve special attention to their socio-emotional well-being. Tatyana talks about the importance of compassion, Translanguaging and literature, among other ways of supporting students in their return to face-to-face classes.
Addressing the Socioemotional Well-being of Bilingual & Immigrant Students: Educators Rising to the Coronavirus Call
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world inside out, or perhaps outside in (as many of us are forced to stay indoors). Our students have had to deal with trauma, stressors and uncertainty in new and unpredictable ways. Furthermore, Black and Latinx communities have been disproportionately impacted by this virus due to structural breakdowns, and Asian Americans are experiencing increased discrimination and racist attacks as they are wrongfully being blamed for the start of this virus. For educators, this reality requires a focus on the socioemotional well-being of students and families.
To get a sense of how educators are supporting their students’ well-being and healing, I sought to learn about the practices of teachers across the nation. After circulating an online questionnaire, I received over 25 responses and have organized them into seven categories:
Teachers across the country are learning, through a lens of compassion, about the new realities our students and their families are living through. María V. Díaz, an educator from the NYS Statewide Language RBERN at NYU, explains what taking such a stance looks like in practice:
In the absence of in-person contact, teachers are finding myriad ways to maintain communication with their students and families. Whatsapp, Google Meets, Google Forms, WeChat, Remind, WebEx, phone calls, video calls, text messages, and email are some of the ways they have stayed in contact. Martina Meijer, a 4th grade bilingual teacher at PS 139 NYC DOE, also mails postcards to students who do not have access to technology and/or wifi. These communications can serve as a way to learn more about what each family is dealing with, checking in on their well-being, and discussing how learning will take place in order to ease anxiety about virtual learning.
This pandemic has highlighted the importance of access to information, and in some immigrant families, English-only notifications can be an obstacle. Teachers across content areas and programs are finding ways to use home languages to build bridges of understanding. Some teachers are bilingual themselves, while others rely more on translation apps, which aren’t perfect, but are helpful. One teacher explains, “It comforts students and families to know that they can communicate in either language and obtain an understanding of the assignment or resolve an issue.” Maryann Hasso allows her students to read a book in their home language and submit a bilingual summary, thereby lowering the stress of working in a new language exclusively. One teacher has noticed that, “being able to communicate in their own language gives many students and their parents additional emotional support as they are heard and understood during this shelter in time.” By encouraging everyone to use all their linguistic resources, educators are reducing anxieties and making vital information more accessible.
Students display emotions through a range of behaviors, often without talking about them or identifying exactly how they are feeling.
Some schools have lessons that focus explicitly on SEL. Albany International Center School, a secondary newcomers school has a range of SocioEmotional Learning virtual classes. One class uses restorative classroom circle principles and “students also share quotes, songs, and other positive messages to connect with and inspire each other,” Liz Gialanella, the school psychologist explains.
Literature can be a powerful starting point for conversations about one’s feelings and how to approach them. Dayle Pomerantz, an early childhood bilingual teacher says they use “bilingual books for children that speak about feelings [and] encourages children to dictate their words to an adult to draw pictures in a journal.” Here are just a few examples of multilingual books educators can use with their students:
Why We Stay Home is a newly released book that deals directly with the Coronavirus, and can be downloaded for free.
The arts can also be a way for students to deal with challenging circumstances and express their feelings. Pamela Broussard, a High School New Arrival Center Teacher from Houston, Texas had her bilingual students recreate famous artwork via the Getty Museum Challenge. She shares, “I was shocked by the fantastic pieces my students created.
While it was not a part of the assignment, it soon became very obvious that their art choices reflected how they were feeling in regard to COVID-19. They also brought all of us a great deal of smiles and laughter.”
While many adults have turned to yoga and meditation to get through these times, students can also benefit from these grounding approaches. Alejandra Ramos Gomez is a 1st grade bilingual teacher in Dallas Texas who started a YouTube channel called Aprendamos con Ms. Ramos (Learning with Ms. Ramos). She creates videos in Spanish to “include different science-based mindfulness and meditation practices in a student-friendly format.”
Even though they try, teachers cannot do it all! And with a “Maslow before Bloom” mindset, Pamela Broussard says, “ I provide families with links to food banks and food distribution locations.” Angela Timm, an ESL middle school teacher in New Jersey “advocated for access to a bilingual counselor for a student who communicated his fear after hearing that someone close to him tested positive for COVID-19.”
Even in challenging times, it’s important to show gratitude for what we have in our lives and the people who are helping us get through this historic moment. Pedro Calixto is a 5th grade bilingual teacher at PS 169 in Brooklyn who had students write thank you letters to essential workers, in Spanish.
I’d like to conclude by expressing my gratitude to the educators who took time out of their stressful quarantined lives to share what they are doing to support the socioemotional well-being of their bilingual and immigrant students and families. Their extraordinary efforts remind us that we must also make time to care for our teachers, as they are being stretched thin and asked to do their job in a context for which they were not prepared. Yet, they make miracles happen every day by caring for students in big and small ways, as they themselves struggle to make sense of our new COVID context. And to each of these teachers, I say gracias, благодарю вас and mèsi.
The complete article is available at: