I am back to work and quickly find myself in the demands and time crunch of guiding a small independent Christian school to once again be ready to receive the students for another year of learning. It seems like September 3 is just around the corner.
The need to work at breaking the cycle of poverty begins in working with students ages 4 to14. At this age already, one can observe situations and conditions that put students at risk of living a life of poverty.
If poverty is a loss of connection with others, an absence of community, then we need to recognize students who have challenges when it comes to connecting with their peers. These challenges are most prevalent for students that have learning, social or emotional challenges or physical disabilities.
Each child wants to be acknowledged, wants to be recognized as a valued part of their peer group. However, students who have non-verbal learning issues, students who are dealing with the effects of autism, students who experience fetal alcohol spectrum disorder often experience difficulty in connecting with other students. Students with these types of challenges need someone to advocate for them in order to learn how to connect with their peers. They also need the support of their peers by having peers who have been taught to show empathy.
Showing empathy does not happen often enough as a auto response. It must be part of the program planning at a school to help students understand the challenges students with disabilities are dealing with. One such lesson involved getting the whole class involved in a simulation of what it is like for a child with autism to deal with sensory overload. Following such a simulation, the students were then given an opportunity to debrief and analyse the experience.
Using simulations to develop empathy is but a small first step. This must then be followed up by reinforcing and encouraging supporting behaviour.
It’s often the people who are most in need of supporting behaviour that are sidelined by hurtful comments or actions that are done to them. Part of breaking the cycle of poverty is to learn to develop communities of support, communities the encourage peace, communities that value each member for their differences or their sameness.
As we begin a new school year, we have several students, new to the school, who have social challenges. Our challenge as faculty is to rally the students to reach out in empathy and support.