Addressing student concerns during an epidemic

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By Daisy Lopez

There is a saying that elementary school teachers are immune to germs. In a way, we kind of are; kids are often sneezing, coughing, learning, hugging, reading, and writing all at the same time. In my 2nd grade classroom, there is always hand sanitizer available for students. I also have a student cleaning crew responsible for making sure tables are wiped every single day.

Disinfecting was not a big deal until recently, when COVID-19 became a part of our everyday lives. I wanted to know what my kids felt about the epidemic. Here is what some of them said:  

“I want to know how it all started.”

As a bilingual teacher, I have always had to adapt academic language in order for it to meet the language needs of my students. How can I change the language so that primary aged students comprehend? The same applied for how COVID-19 began. It is important that children understand that the first cases of the virus were in China, but that it isn’t a Chinese virus, thereby steering children away from having any xenophobic thoughts.

“I think in some ways it is good and bad. It is good because my parents have to cancel their trip. It is bad because people can really die. My aunt and uncle are sick and can easily die if they get it.”

In this case, it is important to talk to children about COVID-19 and how it needs to be taken seriously. However, we do not want children to panic. Talk to children about the mild cases and the symptoms as well as how they can take preventative actions towards helping those around them (NPR, Just For Kids: A Comic Exploring The New Coronavirus).

“I feel a bit nervous probably because someone can have it. My parents have to work because we need money to buy stuff and be prepared. You know, they’re closing stores and restaurants. My grandparents just came from Mexico and now they just stay home.”

Children are aware of their surroundings and need to understand what is going on around them. Children need to be reassured that they are safe, and everything will be okay. Stores will not close and food will be available. Restaurants are closed because we need to flatten the curve; the fewer people we interact with, the fewer people will be infected with the virus.

I made sure kids washed their hands for 20 seconds every time they sneezed and wiped our classroom tables multiple times a day. We finished an entire gallon of hand sanitizer in one week.  At first, I kept telling myself, “this is not a big deal.” Then, it got to the United States and to Chicago, and then my students began to talk about it every single day.

I taught my students what germs were and how to avoid the spreading of them by showing them a Mystery Doug video which led to a conversation about COVID-19. Everything was fine; they were living their 2nd grade lives, but still asking questions about what is going on in the world around them. When the governor announced that schools would close, I talked to my students about the importance of flattening the curve. I let my students lead the conversation and explained the idea of social distancing and how it is crucially necessary to avoid the chance of COVID-19 spreading even if difficult.

Now that schools are closed, I’m encouraging families to continue a routine for their children. They need quiet reading time, they need recess time, they need our daily math warm up, they need time to be kids.

Being away from my students is hard. I am in contact with families through an app called classdojo, providing resources and ideas to do with their students. In return, I’ve received a book titled “Diary of a Coronavirus Kid” and letters about science projects. My students’ home lives and classroom lives are different and with school districts likely closed for a longer time, we need to have a plan. Teachers need training on how to teach online and students and families need the right resources to receive online instruction. Primary school educators like me worry about recreating classroom environments in a virtual space because of young children’s stamina.

In the meantime, I am keeping in touch with my students and I let them know that I’m here for them. We are keeping our community together and learning together, one day at a time.


About the author

Daisy Lopez is a 2nd grade bilingual teacher at Brentano Math and Science Academy on the Northwest side of Chicago and a 2019-20 Teach Plus Illinois Policy Fellow. 

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