NEW YORK (NYDailyNews) – Back-to-school season is always an exciting time. I usually get to see my old friends, catch up on what we’ve been up to all summer, go shopping for schools and supplies, meet new teachers, and get back into the rhythm of the school year.
Of course, this year is different. Most schools in New York City are starting later than usual. Many kids won’t attend school in person, but online. Some kids will go in person but have to wear masks and can’t get very close to any classmates and will have less social interactions. Some kids are doing a combination of in-person and online school.
No matter how this school year will look, it’s more important than ever for us to make sure all of our classmates feel included and supported.
After the last six months, many of us feel isolated. We don’t see other kids as often as we used to. Life just isn’t the same. But that doesn’t have to be bad! We can all pitch in and do our part to build community in the classroom (virtual or not) and to ensure each one of our classmates knows there is someone in their corner.
If you have a chance to chat during remote learning, make sure everyone has a chance to add something to the conversation, even the quiet ones. It should never be a conversation among only the bravest of the bunch. Pay attention to who gets the opportunity to talk and make sure everyone feels included.
If there are people in your class who rarely appear online, it might be because they don’t have access to a device or a steady internet connection. Ask your teacher if you can reach out to them to discuss any of your assignments or share notes on anything they might have missed during remote classes. That will help them feel less alone — and keep them from falling behind.
If you know of anyone who stays home all day without any parents or caregivers, you could consider checking in on them during the day to ask if they’re okay. If you have a backyard or other outdoor space, you can ask your parents about inviting them over to study outside (wearing a mask and socially distanced, of course). Some families may even be comfortable allowing guests inside their home as part of a “pod.”
If you go to school in-person, keep in mind that some kids won’t be able to wear masks. They might have severe asthma, intellectual or developmental disabilities, sensory concerns or other issues that might make it impossible. These students may feel self-conscious about this sensitivity, so be kind to them. You can protect them and yourself by keeping your mask on and maintaining social distance.
Even with in-person school, many kids won’t see others outside the classroom. Talk to your classmates and see how you can all connect outside of class in a safe way. This may mean a class-wide outdoor get-together at a local park where all kids are invited, or, if everyone has access to a phone or device, a group chat or Zoom call. Make sure to get everyone’s numbers/emails (or those of their parents, if they are using theirs) and invite them to take part.
Some kids may have lost a loved one to COVID, or have someone they care about struggling with it. It’s especially hard because they probably don’t have much of their normal support system around them right now. Make sure to be a special friend to them. Let them know how sorry you are and that you’re available if they want to talk. Think about what you would want from others if you were in that situation.
There’s plenty more we can do for kids outside of our immediate class or community. Remember, many kids rely on school for breakfast and lunch, and they might be experiencing hunger. Starting a food drive or donating to a local food pantry are great ways to help with food insecurity.
Unfortunately, many children around the country are missing school completely because they don’t have access to a computer or an internet connection needed for remote learning. During quarantine, I founded a peer mentorship organization called Including You. Among our other activities, we’ve been raising money to purchase Chromebooks and hotspots for low-income students. We’ve already sent devices to a community in the Mississippi Delta region so that we can help tutor kids there who need help with reading.
Look for ways you can show up for your peers. Be a helper to your classmates in any way you can. Because, as we say at Including You, we’re all in this together.
Hampton is an 11-year-old who just began seventh grade in Manhattan. She recently founded Including You, a peer-to-peer mentoring organization.
By Daisy Hampton, Troop 3332