“If the structure does not permit dialogue the structure must be changed”
— Paolo Freire
We must ask ourselves: what is our role as educators in the complex systems of our schools? How do we as a community of school leaders, teachers, parents, and key stakeholders provide opportunities for our young people to not only excel academically but also provide safe spaces for them to engage in dialogic processes?
At Crotona International HS, we recognize the importance of marrying strong academic skills with a solid foundation of socioemotional development. When students are able to develop and strengthen their social-emotional core, then they are able to succeed academically as well.
Many of our students have experienced trauma, the isms of society, and /or feelings of isolation in a new country. While coping with many layers of disenfranchisement, the expectation is that they can put that to the side and continue to compete academically. As educators, we know firsthand that this is not realistic. We know they need support, encouragement, accountability, access to critical thinking tasks, and—most importantly—the strategies necessary to achieve all of these demands.
We created the “Keep Calm and Manage Stress” day with the goal of creating dialogue, tapping into students’ lives and experiences, and providing effective strategies to manage stress. This event was rooted in the guidance team; however, we enlisted all stakeholders in the process. Content area teachers also participated in the creation and development of the day. Students participated in meditational practices, yoga, low-stakes journal writing, creating lavender oils, using stress balls, and creating pamphlets which identified allies/supports to contact during moments of stress.
Students also enagegd in multiple art forms to describe some of their challenging experiences. They used music, art, and “theater of the oppressed” dramatic exercises to highlight struggles such as teen pregnancy, immigration, teen suicide and bullying. The most impactful portion of the day were the circles where students shared what triggers their stress and the strategies they would commit to using when faced with challenges. The circles created an open and safe space for students to share some of their stories and find commonalities with one another through challenges. It also gave teachers an opportunity to hear their students’ stories outside the context of their content.
The “Keep Calm and Manage Stress” day was a day filled with the comprehension of essential tenets such as ownership of oneself, building community through dialogue, and an homage to finding strength in adversity.
Waleska Velez is a Co-Principal Crotona International HS in NYC.