The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

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Addressing DACA Impact on School Climate

A diverse group of children sitting together at a library tableThe Trump administration has announced the rescinding of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This decision will affect 800,000 young people in our country. Within six months, they could lose their protected status. This will undoubtedly impact students and their families in a profound way.

At Open Circle, we are deeply concerned about how this will affect the way students engage with school, teachers, and their peers. It’s important to acknowledge that this decision will have ripple effects that will permeate every facet of a school community since schools reflect the fears, concerns, hopes, and aspirations of the neighborhoods they serve.

It is critical during these times of uncertainty that schools remain places where children and families feel welcomed, safe, and cared for. Equipping our children with skills and tools to talk about and express their feelings is essential to emotional wellbeing. Key to this process is providing time in the school day when students are explicitly taught social emotional learning (SEL) skills and have the opportunity to share their emotions and experiences in a non-judgmental, nurturing environment. Encouraging this skill building and providing this communication channel ensures that children are well cared for and able to stay engaged in school.

Focusing on the quality of relationships is another important way to support your school community. It is important to reassure children and families that the positive relationships they have nurtured within their school community remain strong and unwavering.

As educators, we should be aware that feelings of anxiety, hyper-vigilance, and sadness may arise for many members of our school community.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • As much as possible, keep the lines of communication open and free-flowing.
  • Be clear on what your school stands for and reaffirm your mission and commitments to the students and families.
  • Give grace and empathy when necessary.
  • Create time in each day for both students and staff members to talk about how they are feeling.
  • Teach specific coping strategies and give students opportunities to practice.
  • Provide children with the tools they need to manage their feelings and give them permission to express the range of emotions that will no doubt be present.
  • Schedule time daily for meditation, calm breathing or reflection through journaling or sitting quietly. These practices can reduce stress and increase focus which supports learning.
  • Take care of the emotional needs of the adult community. We must first attend to our needs before we can adequately care for the needs of our children.
  • Share facts about current events as you understand them with students.

Sometimes we think that making students aware of what’s going on in the news will make them upset or anxious. Saying nothing may invite rumors and heightened anxiety. Students need to receive and process information with the guidance of caring adults.

Whether or not the rescinding of DACA directly impacts us or people we know, we will all feel the effects of this in our lives. Our children need to know that there are adults who care, and who are willing to support them no matter what. SEL programs such as Open Circle can provide schools with the structure and resources they need to help children successfully navigate challenging circumstances.

Kamilah Drummond-Forrester was named Open Circle's new Director in July 2017. Prior to that she led Open Circle’s teacher development programming, which prepares educators to implement and integrate the Open Circle Curriculum. Open Circle is a program of the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.

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The Power and Purpose of Post-Election Relationships

One of the central themes of the work we do at Open Circle is relationship building. Developing and nurturing positive and meaningful relationships in schools within the adult community, among the student body and between adults and students is the foundation for creating a learning environment in which everyone feels cared for, can be their best self and do their best learning.

In these post-election times, keeping the focus on relationships is even more important. Now more than ever we are charged with intentionally taking time to address the range of emotions and feelings that our children are experiencing. Giving children the tools needed to speak up, to be allies and positive leaders can empower them during a time when many are feeling confused, uncertain and/or powerless.

Social and emotional learning provides a framework in which to engage students in discussion, reflection and action that can lead to clarity, bridge building and calm.

In the midst of caring for our children we must first attend to ourselves. Similar to the flight attendant instructions of “put your oxygen mask on first,” we cannot expect to be effective with helping our children manage their feelings and how to disagree without being disagreeable if we don’t first do those things ourselves.

The complexities and the social dynamics that we have seen during the election and are seeing played out post-election contain intricacies that our children cannot fully grasp. Our children’s processing of current events is a mirror of how we are processing those same events. They know something is up, but they only know how they should feel or react to that “thing” as they observe how we, the adults in their network, are reacting. Children take their cues from us.

Our children’s pain, tears, fears and anger are often mirror reflections of our pain, tears, fears and anger. To gain a deeper understanding of what many of our children are feeling all we have to do is look at what is happening within the adult community. Children do not process their emotions nor do they take firm stances on social and political issues in a vacuum. Children’s ability to process current events is directly related to how the adults are processing those same events. Many of our children have seen social dynamics during this election season that are confusing and confounding for them. It is critical that we, the community of adults caring for children, are intentional about doing our own processing, healing and talking. Sharing our emotions, fears and hopes with each other. These moments of caring for one another as adults will equip us to be emotionally available for our children and will provide clarity for us as we model how to be in genuine caring positive relationships with one another, when we agree and even more importantly when we disagree.

With this in mind, let us be intentional about the work we do with each other. Let us not fear having difficult conversations, shedding tears, or being allies for one another. It is only when we have walked the walk that we can we be effective conveyors of talking the talk.

Now more than ever, it is important for us to lean in and not shy away from each other. Modeling for our children the power of the tending instinct.* Embracing each other, literally and figuratively, to create communities, schools, classrooms, offices in which no one feels less than, marginalized or pushed to the side. Teaching our children to care for themselves and each other increases empathy, self-awareness and social awareness, which may lead to responsible decisions when they engage with one another and to building relationship skills that bridge political affiliation, race, religion, class, gender identity, and nationality.

Kamilah Drummond-Forrester is a program manager at Open Circle, a leading provider of evidence-based curriculum and professional development for social and emotional learning in elementary schools. Open Circle is a program of the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.


 * Taylor, E. Shelley, 2014, The Tending Instinct: Women, Men and the Biology of Nurturing.

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Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

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