Post-election in Austin schools: Finding comfort in community

 Photo contributed to the Teaching Tolerance #StudentsSpeak campaign

Photo contributed to the Teaching Tolerance #StudentsSpeak campaign

The past few weeks since Election Day have posed significant and unusual challenges for educators across the country. When divisions among adults are as strong as they have been during the presidential campaign, tensions, fears, and misinformation inevitably come out among kids on playgrounds and in classrooms.

In a report released this week, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) found that schools and universities are the most common places that hate-based incidents take place—including attacks against immigrants, Muslims, African Americans, Jews, and the LGBTQ community. More than 10,000 teachers surveyed by SPLC detailed 2,500 fights and threats related to the rhetoric of the 2016 election, increasing use of racial and ethnic slurs, and the appearance of swastikas and Confederate flags around their schools. From the survey’s executive summary:

Ninety percent of educators report that school climate has been negatively affected, and most of them believe it will have a long-lasting impact. A full 80 percent describe heightened anxiety and concern on the part of students worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families.
 

 Photo contributed to the Teaching Tolerance #StudentsSpeak campaign

Photo contributed to the Teaching Tolerance #StudentsSpeak campaign

We asked some members of the Alt Ed Austin community to talk about what they are seeing and hearing among their students and what kinds of constructive, positive steps they’re taking to support kids, parents, and each other.

Individual and group discussions, with the goal of intellectually understanding the dynamics of the political conflicts, as well as sharing and processing a variety of emotions around the election are important to all the educators we heard from.

Kristin Kim of Sansori High School says, “I encourage [students] to see beyond the layers of realities created by polarization, and be aware of when they are drawn in to reactiveness.” She wants to help them avoid repeating patterns of conflict. 

The team at Skybridge Academy focused on the question of vulnerability, and discussed bullying and how to be an ally to people who need support. Students were allowed to share their feelings anonymously and to discuss them in groups. Skybridge’s co-director, Ariel Dochstader Miller, says she believes the students’ open sharing and discussion helped students, but more discussions are needed to move forward “in a healed and unified space.” “We came to the conclusion that the way through these defensive walls, both literal and emotional, is empathy and compassionate relating and sharing.”

“We focused much more on what we could do for one another than dwelling on what we could not control,” says Antonio Buehler of Abrome. Antonio shares a detailed response on his blog, focusing on how Learners can “transcend electoral politics” and better society in myriad ways.

At KọSchool, the full student body of 8th–12th graders gathered to talk about personal empowerment in times of dramatic change. Students discussed feelings of victimization across the spectrum of political viewpoints and shared their own struggles to keep open minds and not condemn those whose beliefs clashed with their own.

There is also great value, for students and their families, in physical activity—whether it’s work or play—and intimately connecting with the natural world. Erin Flynn of Green Gate Farms says she’s been contacted by several schools that would like to get out among the plants and animals on a “medicinal” field trip. “Teens are especially upset,” she adds, “so I will be putting them to work, giving them some nature therapy.”

Most important, we in the Alt Ed Austin community adhere to the belief that schools must be safe and nurturing homes-away-from-home for all children.  We could not say it better than Austin School Board Trustee Paul Saldaña said it in a moving letter to all the families of Austin ISD:

I want you to know how much I admire the concerns you have expressed this week for your friends, classmates, and schools. And I encourage you to have these thoughtful conversations among your peers and with your teachers in the classrooms. It’s okay for you to express any concerns you may have and to find your voice and use it with conviction. Most importantly, I want to reassure you, that your school and classroom is your home and your sanctuary. It belongs to you and you are safe.

Please take a look at Paul Saldaña’s letter here.
 

 Photo contributed to the Teaching Tolerance #StudentsSpeak campaign

Photo contributed to the Teaching Tolerance #StudentsSpeak campaign

You may also be interested in some resources designed for Teaching Tolerance by the SPLC. Using the hashtag #StudentsSpeak, the Teaching Tolerance program is collecting photos with a wonderful variety of heartfelt advice for President-elect Trump on their Facebook page (a sampling of which we’ve included in this post). Take a look, and see how your students can participate here.

Peace.