Middle School Parents Connect Through Purposeful Parenting Call

Middle School Student Support Services team members held their first Purposeful Parenting Zoom meeting this week, inviting all MS parents to participate. Taquera Walker, Middle School Counselor, led the program with support from Stephanie Presson, Lower and Middle School Nurse, and Susan Taylor-Alonso, Middle School Learning Specialist.

Walker thanked parents for joining and introduced her colleagues before letting parents know they were welcome to unmute and speak up at any time, or make comments and ask questions in the chat feature. Presson said, “I’m always here if you need anything or have any questions regarding COVID or any of the new policies we have at school. I know it looks a lot different than in previous years. You are the expert on your child so if there’s anything I can do to support you, please let me know.” Taylor-Alonso also explained her role at MICDS, saying, “I work closely with teachers to support them in thinking about pedagogy to facilitate deep learning. I also support our students and serve as a resource for parents.” She partners with deans to facilitate programming for each level, and with Walker to deliver that programming. She shared that she is interested in the neuroscience of learning, cognitive development, understanding the learning brain and how that applies to students’ feelings and their academic development.

All agreed that with our new hybrid model it feels good to see kids back on campus and moving about the Middle School. The hallways are alive again with bustle and noise!

Walker referenced a New York Times article she shared before the session on preparing kids to return to the classroom. She said it’s important to recognize how we are talking to our children about what’s going on, and to check in regularly to see how they are feeling. Maintaining good habits in school and outside of school is also important, as it’s easy to become lax when we start to feel more comfortable in our new environment. “Wearing a mask creates strange feelings interacting with people,” Walker said. It’s uncomfortable and sometimes it can feel like a hassle, but it’s necessary to create and enforce good habits and reaffirm the importance of wearing a mask.

“The more reminders kids get, the better chance we have of combatting what we’re up against,” said Walker, reminding parents to continue enforcing social distancing, good hand hygiene, and wearing a mask when outside of the house. Consistency is key, she said.

“Life feels pretty inconsistent sometimes, and right now it’s really unpredictable, but consistency can be really great for kids,” Walker said. “It doesn’t need to be super structured, but routine helps with organization, and helps things feel more on level ground.”

She also encouraged parents to let their children take the lead. First, try to understand what they actually know and comprehend about what’s going on, both at school and in our greater community. Learn what they are hearing, what they’re reading, and talk to them about whether those things are true, if they make sense, and how they are interpreting all the information they are receiving. She acknowledged that children, and all of us, really, are taking in a lot of information, and it’s important to understand what they’re hearing.

Parents can evaluate how they are asking questions, and ask whether their children feel prepared. “Talking about preparedness gives kids a sense of responsibility,” she said. She shared an example of asking students how they are prepared for each school day given that they do not currently have access to lockers. Helping them think through this gives them a sense of autonomy and enables them to say (and feel), “I am prepared.” This benefits students in the long run much better than reminding them to not forget things.

Walker recommends increasing communication right now, especially as we move into the winter months where it’s colder and darker, and there’s less sunshine. Talk about all the things going on at school, such as the upcoming ERB tests, and things that are going on in the wider world. Walker and her colleagues are working on new types of programming that work within our current constraints while still allowing exposure to all students.

The conversation was then opened up to the parents on the call, who shared a variety of tips and tricks about how their families have been coping with our new realities. Many parents advocated for local explorations, finding new parks to visit and trails to hike. One mom promoted paddle boarding on Missouri rivers.

Walker invited parents to share a success or struggle for the start of the year, or a current worry.

One parent spoke about how she struggles with keeping her children in distance learning, worrying about students feeling left out or cast out because of decisions made by their parents. She reported that thankfully their friends haven’t made a big deal out of it. Walker commented that we are all working on ensuring there is still connection and community when we don’t have physical proximity, and that interactions with peers are important.

Some parents shared that they were nervous about sending their children to campus, but have been pleased with the safety protocols the School has implemented. Some are concerned about traditional preparations (like 8th grade for high school) changing or getting lost. And how can we help students foster relationships when we’re also telling them to stay apart? Some students are feeling academic stress this year, and some parents are worried about the upcoming ERB tests.

The MICDS Student Support Services team is taking all of this into consideration and is working hard to provide resources for students and their families. They’re looking into creating spaces where kids can be social, while also ensuring that students who connect better online are still included. They recognize that some students need more than the type of auditory learning that happens online, and that some classes, such as science, are more difficult when students don’t have access to a lab. “As we are moving back into the classroom, it’s easier for our advisors to do more one-on-one connection with their students, and it’s easier for kids to talk to teachers individually,” she said.

Above all, we should reset student expectations given everything else that is going on. The team continues to have conversations with students and parents to get an understanding of what is important and what they can support students to manage school-related pressures.. Sleep is critical, Walker said, and it’s even more imperative given the amount of screentime many of them are experiencing. She doles out advice like don’t scroll through your phone right before bed, as that triggers you to dive deeper into content and wakes up your brain. She chuckled as she admitted, “I need to practice this myself!”

In response to some questions about the upcoming ERB tests, Taylor-Alonso explained that it’s important to frame these tests as an institutional tool used to gauge how the students are learning in the context of our academic curriculum. “We don’t teach to the test, so we aren’t trying to focus on getting them to complete the test only, we focus on facilitating deep learning with the students,” she said. There’s a phenomenon known as summer slide when students lose knowledge after being out of school over the summer. Now there’s one known as “COVID slide,” and MICDS will use the ERB as a tool to understand where our students are. It’s one data point among many that we use to evaluate student progress. We then interpret the information and contextualize it in our current setting. The best indicator and the most reliable data is when our teachers engage with their students every day to see how they’re doing. The ERB test is a third party, objective measure that aligns with standards, and it’s simply one measure among many that we use.

Parents also asked about study skills and time management resources. Taylor-Alonso explained that there isn’t one website or book she can point all parents to. “Realistically, we have to understand each individual student and what barriers they’re running into and then design according to that,” she said. “However, I have been creating program videos for the students, and the advisors have presented those videos that convey words of wisdom, tips and tools for thinking about study skills and time management.” Click the image below for more tips and tools!

Taylor-Alonso encourages parents to use this as a launchpad for conversations with their children. “There may be other things inhibiting your student’s ability to manage their time,” she said, “so it’s important to troubleshoot where they are having trouble and developing strategies around that.”

Walker explained that everyone at MICDS is working hard to stay positive and that students feel cared about and that we want them here. We’re striving for everyone to be physically here on campus while realizing that isn’t always possible, so we’re working to make sure everyone feels welcome.

Thank you to our amazing Middle School Student Support Services team and to our parents who joined and participated in this Parent Education meeting.

If you’re interested in joining the Parent Ed team, please reach out to Ms. Walker at twalker@micds.org.