With the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin happening in Minneapolis and the recent spike in hate incidents directed at Asian Americans nationwide, some students feel overwhelmed. The Anoka-Hennepin School District is trying to help.
The district is making sure parents and staff members are informed and have an array of resources to pass on to students who show signs of trauma or have questions.
“We don’t expect all of our staff or most or our staff to be content experts on how to support students through crisis,” Superintendent David Law said. “But we expect our staff to redirect students to resources as needed.”
Those resources include information from the Minnesota Department of Education and the National Education Association. The district distributed an article from the Anti-Defamation League about how to get students engaged in race conversations, including keeping the classroom respectful and connecting the past to the present. The article can be found at tinyurl.com/2wkwxda7.
Teachers district-wide are trained to identify when students are struggling with problems that don’t necessarily tie into the classroom. That way, teachers can refer students to someone who may be better suited to help them work through the problem at hand, such as a school counselor, psychologist and social worker. The district also has student achievement advisors who act as cultural liaisons in the building.
“These individuals collectively, figuratively speaking, wrap their arms around students, so that students have a number of advocates in the building,” Director of Student Services Keith Brooks said.
If students can establish a rapport with someone in the building, Brooks said, they have someone to talk to when they need it.
Community members are hearing about the trial and the hate incidents on television, the radio and social media, so the district didn’t want students to hear about it all day in every class, too. Instead, teachers are sometimes working in conversations where they fit naturally. That happens more often on the high school level than it does on an elementary level, Brooks said.
“We are not bashing law enforcement, and we’re not being divisive in our communication,” Brooks said. “We’re actually doing the opposite. We’re trying to bring people to the table. We’re trying to communicate the multiple perspectives that exist, but create a space where people agree and disagree and still be respectful to one another.”
Fostering a civil discourse among students helps prepare them for post-graduation, Brooks said. By communicating with people with different opinions and backgrounds, students are developing collaboration and problem-solving skills future employers may find desirable.
The district sends emails with resources when they see fit, Law said, but there’s no way to predict who needs resources to help their children.
“Any time that there’s a community crisis — whether it be the loss of a community member or a staff member or a student — we share resources with parents of how to work with your children through a crisis,” Law said.
These particular events can be polarizing throughout the community, Law said. Some parents may be members of law enforcement, whereas other parents may want their kids not to interact with law enforcement.
Some parents or guardians will receive the emails and immediately delete them, Law said, but some parents are grateful to have the resources to help facilitate conversation with their children if need be.
“We don’t force it, we don’t dictate it, we don’t assign it, but we suggest it,” Law said.
The district also wants its teachers to have empathy for students from any background or life experience, he said. Regardless of their feelings on an issue, those students deserve to be in the classroom just like everyone else, he said.
“Those are incredibly challenging jobs for adults, because the adults in the community are filled with passion,” Law said, “but we’re committed to building an environment where students can feel safe and learn.”
Director of Communications and Public Relations Jim Skelly said the district likes to facilitate conversation between families and schools. That engagement is beneficial to the district to learn what parents are thinking and what their concerns might be.
“That’s part of our plan, to take feedback and then learn and grow from that,” Skelly said. “That’s something we do, it’s not something we try to avoid. We want to be part of the discussion as well.”