The 2021-22 school year starts next week. Beginnings are an opportunity to reflect on lessons from the past and build upon them for a new future. Our motto for this year is PVUSD C.A.R.E.S! The “C.A.R.E.S.” portion stands for: Connect, Accelerate, Recover, Enrich and Succeed. By focusing on the whole child, whole family and whole community, this motto reflects our understanding that while our students are our focus, they are connected to the world around them. What affects students’ families and communities affects them as well.
Living with a global pandemic for almost 17 months is bound to have an effect, even if individuals have not directly dealt with the SARs-CoV-2 virus. While we have made progress, there have also been setbacks. Many counties in our state are re-evaluating their mitigation strategies in light of increasing positivity due to the more virulent delta variant.
Even understanding that a pandemic due to a novel virus means a higher level of uncertainty, the constant changes are frustrating. Almost half of the respondents to our students, staff, family and community survey felt that the pandemic had a significant impact on mental health and emotional functioning. Seventy-five percent felt some degree of anxiety about returning to in-person instruction. Forty-two percent felt the loss of meaningful relationships. Tragically, 18% lost someone they loved. And, for many people, these difficulties are compounded by destabilized support structures outside of the school environment.
Everyone deals with stress in different ways. One person’s opportunity may be devastating to someone else. We know that ongoing anxiety, personal loss, and lack of needed structures can be traumatic. Trauma-informed teaching recognizes that upheavals can be a barrier to learning. When students’ minds and bodies are in fight-or-flight mode, they will not likely absorb much of a literacy lesson. Likewise, when those helping students in the school environment or at home are dealing with their own trauma, they may not be at their best in helping others to learn. That is why we, as a district, must support staff, families, and the community in our efforts to support students.
Recognizing that a robust social-emotional foundation aids optimal learning, PVUSD is beginning the new school year with a restorative start. This kind of beginning means that we are providing students, staff, and families with age-appropriate strategies to cultivate mindfulness and cope with stress. These include techniques for recognizing signs of trauma, being self-aware, asking for help, and more. For example, our adults guiding students in the classroom will receive de-escalation training for both preventative and in-the-moment needs.
Though academic achievement is undoubtedly valued, that is not our only measure of student success. We can best encourage students to be prosperous in their lives and future careers by creating an inclusive school culture that recognizes many forms of accomplishment. Picture what it would look like if, when we celebrated literacy, we also celebrated kindness. Or, when we cheered on our athletes, we also cheered on those navigating personal hurdles.
Our school district takes its name from the rich agricultural land of the Pajaro Valley. And, like the fertile soil that grows a “salad bowl” for the world, providing a restorative start and fostering the development of social and emotional competencies creates a rich environment for the whole child to flourish. In offering tools for staff and families as well, we open the gate to a synergistic effect and create a more stable framework for holistic success than if we had limited the distribution of these tools. Ultimately, our restorative start is a new beginning for our community.
A humbling aspect of becoming a school board trustee is realizing how many different considerations go into every decision. This column is PVUSD’s community outreach to clarify how the board arrives at its decisions. Jennifer Holm is President of the PVUSD Board of Trustees and Jennifer Schacher is the Vice-President. Their views are her own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian. Contact Holm at [email protected] and Schacher at [email protected].