Recently, I have found myself struggling to find the words to describe what I am feeling in my body and heart as I move along my work week. The effects of the complex trauma present in our local, state, and national communities is bubbling up within me and it can feel like it is everywhere I look. It can be overwhelming and, at times, paralyzing. Stopping me in my tracks, distracting me from what I’m trying to focus on. In any given moment I can find myself moving between feeling angry, sad, distracted, and joyful.
This experience is not one I am alone in. That, I know. When I think about it, this is an experience my ancestors knew all too well. In many ways, it was and still is a story of pain, state sanctioned violence, discrimination, and resilience. Stories they passed onto me through generations. These stories are alive in my body even though my mind is not always conscious of them. It is this knowledge and understanding that I try to stay connected to as much as I can. Resilience and practices of healing are something my body knows. For us, tending to wellness has not been a convenient choice but something needed in order to survive. I know the choices I make now impact the legacy of harm or healing I will eventually leave with this world.
I think often about the various needs we all have when it comes to healing. Today, I looked to art to help me along my day. Political art has a history in justice movements to heal, protest and resist. The presence of political art and expression of culture is necessary in any healing centered community. The song “A Long Time Coming” by Las Cafeteras spoke to me and helped me move through what was in my body. Today, I choose to sing and dance to resist.
What are you doing during these times to help you connect with your sense of resiliency? What are you doing to tend to your healing both personally and in community with others?
This is one of the first and most common questions I receive as an occupational therapist. Generally speaking, occupational therapy is a healthcare service which helps people participate functionally in the occupations or activities that are necessary or meaningful to their life. Depending on the setting or the client, those meaningful occupations can vary. For children and adolescents, one of their primary occupations is being a student.
School based occupational therapy
What skills or areas can OTs help with?
How does that work in distance learning?
Occupational therapists adapt activities and create modifications to provide a “just right challenge” for students. This allows the student to feel successful in their schoolwork and activities while simultaneously continuing to build their skillsets.
In distance learning, we continue to do just that! Instead of using sensory tools at school to self-regulate, we are building a “tool-box” of sensory items at home (i.e. blankets, squishy balls, play doh, etc.). Instead of practicing copying sentences from a real whiteboard, we are practicing copying sentences from a virtual “Zoom whiteboard.” And instead of promoting socio-emotional skills through peer interactions on the playground, we are playing turn-taking virtual games and role playing how to react and respond to what a peer said over a Zoom. For me, this has been one of the more fun challenges of virtual occupational therapy, finding games that translate easily to Zoom like Tic-Tac-Toe, Connect Four, or “Snakes.”
True, the environment and resources have changed, but the service goal is the same: to help students access their curriculum in spite of any obstacles they face, including and not limited to, a pandemic.
Today is the 29th of September, or the 300th day of March depending on who’s counting. At Elmhurst United, the middle school where I recently began my role as a therapist, we have completed our first quarter of remote learning. The familiar fall milestones, such (virtual) back to school night, parent teacher conferences and first report cards are accompanied by the unfamiliar and uneasy backdrop of everything happening right now. The young people I work with have shared how this moment has felt to them, ranging from surreal to sad to ridiculous and as one student shared, like “I can’t even tell what’s a meme now honestly.”
I want to share something that, amidst all of this craziness, has helped to keep my head and heart looking forward: Elmhurst’s commitment to the full service community school approach, and why this model not only works, but is inherent to unconditional education and social justice.
As Julio Angel Alicea noted in a recent EdSource article:
“A community school is a public school that works to address neighborhood nonacademic needs, including health care, dental care, preschool, after-school activities and summer school — anything that affects the well-being of the community."
Elmhurst is 1 of over 40 schools in the Oakland Unified School District that is listed as a “full service community school” which offers supports like those named above. Elmhurst embodies this model by partnering with organizations like LifeLong Medical, La Clinica, and Seneca to wrap services around students and families, meeting a wide variety of needs. But it goes so much deeper than that. Our Coordination of Services Team (or COST) meets weekly to talk about things that are coming up for students and families. The difficult things impacting our students and families create new challenges but also opportunities for our school team to show up for them. This year we have worked with teachers and families to develop solutions to address food insecurity, technology device and training needs, and housing insecurity . Solutions that we hope will help students and families deal with the insane emotional weight of this moment.
The work to dismantle oppressive systems and structures is woven through each team member who brings a deep commitment to sustaining the culture of our students, families, teachers and staff. The team at Elmhurst embodies the spirit of a community school because the success of each individual student is directly connected to the success of the entire school. The collective work done to help nurture that success, to heal what’s wounded and celebrate what’s vibrant and special, is never taken lightly. Whether a student needs counseling, 1-on-1 academic support, case management, therapy, a dental appointment or help with housing, supports are identified based on a collaboration of so many perspectives, skills, ideas and resources. It’s no stretch when Principal Kilian Betlach signs off in his weekly newsletter saying, “No matter what.”
When we partner with schools to cultivate this idea of “Unconditional Education”, I think it works because it’s rooted in something very real, especially during this moment where all of us feel isolated, overwhelmed and engaged in so many important struggles. Schools as an institution is filled with problems and inequities that demand bold, persistent and compassionate action. And, schools represent a conduit for community energy, a crossroads at which the lives of our youth, our elders and everyone in between intersect and intertwine. Now more than ever, schools need to provide safety and possibility, and we need to cultivate rich partnerships that don’t place that burden solely on students, or teachers, or families, or service providers – it has to be for, of, and lead by the community. This idea of a community model is much, much older than any of us and reflects the wisdom of cultures and societies often devalued by pre-dominant, white supremacist culture that emphasizes the individual over the collective. When we tap into that knowledge we can move toward our the common goal held by both Elmhurst and Seneca: to sustain the culture of our communities, and to do so with unyielding love and passion for a more just world. I am profoundly lucky to be able to exist in two spaces that hold the at same value to heart: we are a community, and our collective spirit drives the work we do.
I am so heartened and excited by two new programs available to Oakland, especially as most of the students, families and schools that I work with (and I myself) reside in Oakland.
One service by Alameda County’s Behavioral Health offices called CATT is a 2-person team, consisting of a licensed behavioral health clinician and an EMT who can be dispatched from 911, to answer calls that may benefit from assessment for services that include psychiatric settings but other community resources like housing shelters and substance use interventions too. This service also strives to circumvent the use of police for mental health assessments, and the use of costly ambulance rides.
Another service is the MH First Oakland, a project from a regional organization called the Anti-Terror Police Project. This is a community volunteer phone service that strives to “interrupt and eliminate the need for law enforcement in mental health crisis first response by providing mobile peer support, de-escalation assistance, and non-punitive and life-affirming interventions, therefore decriminalizing emotional and psychological crises and decreasing the stigma around mental health, substance use, and domestic violence, while also addressing their root causes: white supremacy, capitalism, and colonialism.”
Both CATT and MH First Oakland are new programs that have launched in the past few weeks. They have limited hours and are beginning to build up their staffing. They both note that they will call for law enforcement under certain circumstances, so they do not eliminate police presence during a crisis.
Even so, both these programs show growth towards creating structures to address the injustices in relying on law enforcement for mental health care. The ongoing highlight of the abuses of power in law enforcement continually compels me to critically address the need for our clients and families to have alternate ways of dealing with a mental health crisis outside of calling 911. It is not enough for clients to hope for a responder who can manage the least amount of harm in a critical situation, all the while running the risk of – like the many instances of the past few years have shown – an unjust death of a vulnerable person. This rubs against the training I have received that we ask clients and supports to call 911 when “in crisis.” Asking clients and families to call 911 covers my liability in addressing risk and aligns with the standard of care that may be expected in the field.
Under that tension, I must give clients and their supporters more resources like CATT and MH First Oakland; practice calling 911 to request an officer with mental health responder training; have safety plans that include assessing whether a client or guardian would prefer to voluntarily go to a crisis stabilization program like Willow Rock or Children’s Hospital for assessment and help; and explore more hearty early interventions and natural community supports for clients and families. Giving clients and families more options to choose from can validate lived experiences of threat from powerful, privileged arms of our society. I am grateful to have the folks at CATT and MH First Oakland launch these new approaches for our clients and families. I am looking forward to seeing how these public services can improve the standard of care in our field.
I am a School Psychologist. I received my degree in school psychology at a Historical Black College (HBCU) called Howard University in 2007. I began my professional career as a School Psychologist in a charter school in Washington D.C. and later in nearby Laurel, Maryland. The schools I had chosen to work at served students and families from lower socio-economic statuses, as well as predominately Black communities. Like my other School Psychologist colleagues, I administered IQ tests and other processing batteries, completed behavior analysis and plans, work reports on student performance and achievement, attended IEP meetings, etc. It wasn’t until I moved to California in 2014 and accepted a position as a School Psychologist that I first learned of the landmark lawsuit referred to as Larry P vs. Riles (1979).
For those that are unaware of this case or it’s significance, the Larry P v. Riles (1979) court case is a landmark lawsuit that changed special education for Black students across California and banned the administration of standardized intelligence quotient (IQ) tests for the placement of Black students in special education. The case represented a class action lawsuit of Black parents in San Francisco who challenged the over-representation of Blacks students in special education classes and programs based on standardized assessment. During the court case, the basis of the argument in opposition to IQ tests and standardized assessment for Black students were that the tests were biased, founded in Eurocentric “White supremacist” culture and were overall discriminatory. The court case concluded with a permanent ban on IQ testing of Black students within California and the ban continues to this day. California is the only state with such a ban. Therefore, you can understand my initial shock and confusion when I learned that as a school psychologist in California, I would not be allowed to utilize the familiar assessments I had previously learned in Washington D.C and Maryland.
I’ve since lived in California for the last 5 years and during that time, I’ve had numerous debates on the validity of this law and its purported ability to reduce over-representation of Black students in special education. The California Association of School Psychologists (CASP) wants the ban lifted and notes that their reasoning is that the ban has not been effective in curbing the overrepresentation of black students in special education. As a School Psychologist and now Director of Special Education, I don’t need to see the hard numbers to know through observation that this law has not been effective in reducing the disproportionality of African-American students in special education, but simply banned the use of assessment tools, that while imperfect provide valuable information about an individuals' overall cognitive learning profile. It is my belief that the issue is less on the assessment batteries themselves, but instead the interpretation of the results by the individuals administering the assessment.
While I understand you may not want to take my professional judgement and beliefs as truth, let me share some relevant data. Both nationally and locally within California, disproportionality of Black students continues - but now specifically, disabilities are more related to perceived challenging behaviors. According to a KQED article, A Landmark Lawsuit Aimed to Fix Special Ed for California’s Black Students. It Didn’t, Lee Romney shared, “But data released in 2016 show that Black students nationwide are still being placed disproportionately in special education—particularly in categories like ‘emotional disturbance,’ which are tied to behavior.” The author further shares, “Many black families find themselves navigating the system because nearly one in three black students in San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is in special education—compared to one in eight non-black students, district data shows.” The data suggests that disproportionality for Black student in special education is still rampant and reform is still needed to address the issue.
Given our current place in history, the year 2020 has been filled with uncertainty due to the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19 and the social-political cry to action due to recent undeniable viral videos of the on-going pervasive crimes against black bodies, people, and minds. However, I wonder if now is the time to review this law, its utility, and take action to lift the ban. I wonder if now is the time to re-think and re-examine our educational practices, policies and procedures to truly create an equitable educational system for all students, but specifically those disenfranchised by the system. My vote is to lift the Larry P ban and instead focus on full inclusion efforts, new special education eligibility definitions and criteria’s such as Patterns of Strengths and Weaknesses model (PSW), and overall improvement of educational programs for teachers, school psychologists, and other related service providers that don’t just infuse “cultural competency,” but dismantle implicit bias and racism. The call to action is now!
Over the last few months, while sheltering in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, service providers and those in the Education world are adapting whole new ways of teaching and supporting through distance learning.
During these unprecedented times, our students are experiencing a range of emotions, and the social-emotional component is more critical than ever. In providing remote support to our students and families, the Rosemary Elementary School team recognizes that our students miss their friends, teachers and feeling of being together and connected.
What with so much uncertainty, new routines, and schedules to adapt to (coupled with complex feelings), the team wanted to highlight the value of “Self-Compassion.”
The team at Rosemary (Samantha, Crystal and Matt) did a fantastic job of creating a personalized Powtoon video addressed to the Rosemary students - explaining the meaning and importance of Self-Compassion with some useful tips and ideas for practicing it at home. The goal of creating the online video is to encourage students to practice self-care and foster an overarching commitment to creating connectedness across physical distance.
This Self-Compassion Powtoon video was very well-received by the staff and students, and it was a treat to watch some of the kids who shared back how they have been practicing Self-Compassion at home. Enjoy!!
This week was my turn to contribute to the UE blog, and it has been a challenge to think about what to write given all that is going on in the world. So, I will just write from the heart and I will not go silent in this time, where it is important to use our voices and ability to speak and act on the injustices that continue to happen within black communities.
I have so many thoughts and feelings related to how black lives continue to be mistreated, and I feel that there are no words that can describe the pain, rage and exhaustion that black communities may feel as we continue to see injustice, inequity, and violence towards black youth and adults.
In the past few days, I have seen a lot content going around with tools and tips on how to address racial issues within our organizations and personal lives. I am grateful for those tools, BUT, as the image shows below, until you fix the heart, there will be no real change.
Recently I conducted a series of interviews for my grad school project called Diversity, Inclusion and Authenticity: How to make a Lasting impact for Organizational Change. One of the key findings of this project suggested that it requires for leaders and individuals to "do the work" within themselves first before attempting to implement change in policy or any initiative towards creating a more diverse and inclusive environment. From what I learned from the experiences of others and my own, I agree that change starts with reflection on our own hearts, mindsets and cultural framework. I believe that without our own self-reflection, any effort of change will not be sustainable to make a true impact. As we work on our own hearts, and start to make internal transformation, we will become effective in making transformative changes within our systems and communities to protect BLACK LIVES.
Real, sustainable, and authentic change requires COMMITMENT, HEART and ACTION. Heart will give us the courage and the stamina to walk the walk when this journey to create change gets tough. Are you ready to do the work? Are you committed? Are you ready to take action? Because BLACK LIVES MATTER!
I stand in solidarity with you.
During this period of prolonged school closures, we are all adapting to new realities of daily life in our own ways. We each have our own coping skills, routines (intentional or not), patterns that make up the rhythms of life. Without the physically, socially, and emotionally immersive experience of school and work, we add up new webs of behaviors, creating a new/abnormal sense of daily life that for most of us is completely novel.
And yet, there are myriad ways we collectively engage in routine, in social dynamics, in group narratives. And for young people everywhere, this social distancing has not eliminated the need to experiment and build a sense of identity. Adolescents and teens everywhere are still engaged in the process of differentiating their unique selves from their families, as they also spend more time at home with them and participate in family roles more regularly than before. I realized recently in a session with a client how much of a role mass media is playing in that process for youth right now.
While young people can’t meet together at school or in the community to participate in these exploratory behaviors with their peers, they are finding other spaces and creative mechanisms for continuing these critical developmental experiences. Whether it’s through video games, TV series, movies, music, manga, or other reading material, teens are using immersive virtual experiences to explore their concepts of self. I’ve spent a lot of time recently in sessions with young people engaging in a reflective process about what media they are consuming in order to support this. When a young person is telling me about a TV show they are watching, they are not simply relating a passive escapist activity, they are curating which aspects of the plot, characters, literary and artistic devices, and themes to share. They are piecing together parts of the deeper narratives, cultural and social values, and shared identity points with characters that they relate to and feel significant to them. This curational process of reflecting may look very different from being immersed in a group of peers, but the building of a sense of self continues. Initially I struggled to understand and recognize the significance of this in a therapeutic process, but as social distancing and remote services continue, I am seeing this with more clarity.
Witnessing a young person engage in that reflective process, learning which characters they relate to, admire, strive to be like, and feel an aversion to is all social-emotional learning. Who ever said there is nothing to be learned about ourselves from learning about vampires? Maybe it’s enriching to imagine ourselves outside the scope of standard human experiences, maybe it’s possible young people exploring their identities in this way will have extra creative thinking skills that will allow them to shape the future in ways we can’t even imagine. There’s no way for us to fully understand the range of impacts of this moment on young people’s social-emotional development. We already know many of the negative and disparate impacts on our communities across socioeconomic and racial lines. There is no living precedent for the suffering of this moment in time that we are collectively immersed in; we can acknowledge the incredible resilience of young people that is emerging through that suffering.
I'm Ori Gutin, a Student Support Assistant (SSA) at One Purpose School in San Francisco's Bayview District. At the start of the shelter in place, I joined an awesome group of San Francisco-based All-In! staff, comprised of SSAs, clinicians, and Unconditional Education (UE) coaches, that were dedicated to providing weekly social emotional learning (SEL) content to our students stuck at home. Our hope was to touch on issues specific to what they might be experiencing because of COVID-19. We have created SEL content on mindfulness, peace corners, yoga, identifying feelings such as frustration, worry, and now... loneliness! This week's video normalizes the feelings of loneliness that our students might be experiencing at home right now, and through a reading of the fantastic children's book The Invisible String, we help remind them that even if they are not physically with their school community, they are still connected in their hearts to everyone they love! Additionally, students are provided two handouts (Invisible String Worksheet and Special Message Worksheet) they can do at home to help them stay connected to their friends and school communities from afar. Making these weekly videos has been such a wonderful experience for me. It provides me an opportunity to think creatively about how to share social emotional learning with students in an engaging way.
While I have been working on these videos to support my passion for SEL in my professional life, I have also been working on an SEL project in my personal life – self publishing my first picture book, The Butterfly Who Flew in the Rain. My book tells the story of Cody the caterpillar who was born in the midst of a terrible thunderstorm, and his ensuing journey of transformation and self-discovery, in which he learns to not only accept life’s challenges, but to embrace them. It is meant to teach kids that even if things appear impossibly difficult, or it feels as if we are completely mired in negative emotions or situations with seemingly no end in sight, we still must never give up. It is based in the philosophy of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which teaches that we must not sit around just waiting for happiness or better conditions to come, but rather we must learn to live with life’s challenges, accept them, continue to act in alignment with our personal values, and move forward in our lives in a meaningful way. Given the state of our world right now, and the immense challenges facing children across the globe, I believe this story of perseverance is more important now than ever before.
I’m working with an incredible illustrator to self-publish this book, and together we are trying to print 1,000 copies. We need to raise $5,638 to get our book to the printers, and right now we have raised $4,385, which is just over 77% of the way towards our goal. After we meet our self-publishing costs, all profits made from the sale of the book will go to two local COVID-19 emergency relief funds that are supporting communities in need in my home city, San Francisco, and in the illustrator’s home state, Massachusetts. We will donate 50% of the profits to MassUndocuFund, which provides funds directly to families of undocumented immigrants who have lost their jobs, and are unable to access any state or federal relief funds in Massachusetts, and 50% to Compass Family Services, which provides emergency COVID-19 Family Care Kits, which include food, pharmaceutical, and cleaning supplies to homeless families in San Francisco.
If you are interested in supporting this project, go to www.orisstories.com/support and donate $20! In return, we will ship you a signed hardcover copy of the book to anywhere in the U.S., and email you corresponding SEL worksheets and discussions questions, too!
Overnight and without any warning, our students’ parents and caregivers were asked to become teachers. One thing we have found while supporting parents in this new role is that there is a LOT of information out there. Many of the parents we have talked to have felt overwhelmed by the flood of emails, text links, and other resources that have been sent their way. We have found it helpful taking things “back to basics”—talking through steps to help parents structure their child’s space and time during distance learning (MTSS fans might even think of this as helping parents set up their “Tier 1” of learning-at-home). The following is a checklist we have put together, mainly adapted from these super helpful resources: Distance Learning: 8 Tips to Help Your Child Learn at Home and Family Engagement: Supporting Students With Disabilities During COVID
1. Create a Clutter-Free Learning Space for Your Child
Does your child have a special place to do homework? It is important to set up a quiet, clutter-free area if your child is learning full-time from home. One idea could be to convert the kitchen table into a learning station. Turn off the TV and remove all cups, salt and pepper, and other kitchen items when your child is doing schoolwork. When it is time to eat, put away the school stuff and use it again as a kitchen table.
2. Make a Schedule and Stick to it
We are creatures of habit. With no school bell to beat, kids might feel like sleeping in, and with no set schedule, it can be hard to get around to schoolwork. Here are a few questions to help you and your child come up with a schedule that works:
3. Reduce Distractions
Our homes are full of distractions. Make a list of the things that distract your child and then find ways to limit them during learning time. For example, is the dog a big distraction? If so, consider putting your dog in a separate room when your child is doing schoolwork. Are games or social media a big distraction? Try blocking them on your child’s device during instructional time. Another way to eliminate online temptations: after downloading an assignment, turn off the Wi-Fi and/or cellular service to help your child focus on the work.
4. Try and Get Plenty of Exercise
Exercise helps us think better. When we move and groove, our problem-solving, memory, and attention improve. Physical activity is a natural way to reduce stress and prevent anxiety. Look for family-friendly activities/ workouts you can do at home or in your neighborhood. The best time to exercise might be right before tackling schoolwork, but it is also good to take exercise breaks throughout the day.
5. See Which Accessibility Features Could Help your Child
Most phones, laptops, and other mobile devices have built-in assistive technology. For example, read aloud or text-to-speech can help struggling readers, and speech-to-text can help struggling writers. On YouTube, you can adjust the settings to slow down the playback speed if your child is having trouble understanding videos. You can also change the settings to show closed captions if it helps your child to read the text while listening to videos.
6. Reach Out to Your Child’s Teacher(s)
Learning at home requires family support. To support your child, set up a direct line of communication with your child’s teachers. Use email, text, phone calls, or maybe even video conferencing to connect. You may even want to set up a day and time each week to talk. You can use this time to talk about challenges your child is facing, review upcoming instruction, and understand expectations. Being proactive is essential if your child is struggling. If your child has learning challenges, here are some questions to consider:
7. Make Time for Fun
Kids are missing out on a ton of social interaction with their peers, and craving opportunities to have fun and just be kids. Making time for fun activities can help take the pressure off work and learning and ease the tensions of sharing close space for long periods of time. Playworks has a great Playbook of small-group games (mostly geared for younger kids), while older students may prefer structured activities like card or board games, or just shared independent time.
All-In! Partnership Team