Tag Archives: empathy

Abby’s Corner – Community, 21st Century Skills, and Parent Resources

Building Community
Well, it only took three years but finally Team Tapscott scored a win at the annual Panther Picnic Tapscott vs. Avis race! It certainly helped that I had the support of some of the Tapscott team, as Rachel and Luis helped bring it home for us! It was once again a super fun time, even for our fearless lead racer Rachel who went head first into the ramp, got up within seconds, and was back on her tricycle in no time. As I told the students, it was a perfect example of what we tell students all the time, which is that we all make mistakes and we have to learn to get up, brush ourselves off, and keep going!

As always, Heather and I were looking ridiculous, and I love that our community embraces this. For me, it speaks to our mission and how authenticity is so important in building community. We have to be real, and this includes sharing in moments of laughter together! Thanks for all of the encouragement. Panther Picnic is always such an incredible event. Thank you to everyone who helped make this year’s event a success.

A Peek into Program
Our 21st Century Learning Framework continues to guide our program and the learning experiences students have daily. Our goal to teach the skills students need to build a better world begins with having empathy, and this is developmentally both a natural thing for young children to feel and yet also quite challenging to practice in real time! Having empathy requires moving beyond your own perspective and making room for other opinions, suggestions, or ways of doing something. This is not easy work for adults, let alone elementary aged students, and yet we try to help them practice so that they gain comfort and familiarity when they realize they can incorporate another’s ideas with their own and land on an idea or end result that is even stronger than what they might produce working on their own.

At Tapscott, we work on building empathy by giving students daily experiences working with others – in partners and in small groups. These learning experiences provide opportunities to build 21st century skills such as communication, collaboration, innovation/creation, and self-knowledge. Below are some examples of our students hard at work this fall. Their joy, engagement, and focus is truly impressive and inspiring to me!

Third graders show their excitement as they work through a project together in science class.

Fourth graders are incredibly focused as they record ideas during group work in class.

First graders doing partner investigative work in our garden.

Helpful Parent Resources
I’ve appreciated the honest dialogue I’ve had with many parents as hateful events have unfolded recently in our country. It is concerning, upsetting, and hard to know what to say to your young child in these moments. Ultimately, we want our kids to be caring, empathetic, accepting humans who love rather than hate. As a school, we want our community to embrace difference as a positive. I wanted to pass along a great resource provided by our new Tapscott counselor, Sophia Genone. We have always shared the messages with students and families that all are welcome here, and that everyone is encouraged to be who they are every day. My hope is that we continue to work at home and school to reinforce these messages. Below is Sophia’s resource, and I appreciate the way it breaks up tips by developmental stage. Teaching Tolerance is one of my go-to resources as both a parent and an educator.

Beyond the Golden Rule: A Parent’s Guide to Preventing and Responding to Prejudice

Checking In at School Events
In order to build community and make sure that everyone on campus is connected to a student, we’re going to begin having parents, guardians, family members, and friends sign in and put on a name tag when visiting campus for a school or class event, such as a grade level play, Halloween, or PSPA hosted coffee. Please set aside some extra time when you arrive on campus to sign in and put on a name tag. Thank you!

Worth Reading
My daughter read Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson in fourth grade and I just finished reading it this year. For students and adults who want to understand just how easy it is to become homeless as well as the very real challenges many in the Bay Area have, this is a great read. It is one of the better kid’s books I’ve read that does a nice job of building empathy for those who are without a permanent home. It also reminds us all that things may not be what they appear, and that sometimes we have no idea what a friend might be going through personally. I loved this book, and I donated it to our library so check it out sometime!

Sharing Stories, Building Community

We started the school year with such a burst of joy–from greeting new families and welcoming old friends, to celebrating our community at Panther Picnic. As always, being at Prospect Sierra gives me a tremendous amount of happiness and sense of purpose. This year I made it a goal to spend at least a few hours in every classroom or grade level in the first six weeks of school so that I could get to know the students better, observe our teachers in action, and more selfishly, to participate in all of the rich curriculum and activities that Prospect Sierra students are engaged in every day.

The classroom visits were, in a word, awesome. Besides doing challenging academic work in every subject, from geometry veiled as art in kindergarten, to researching and debating constitutional amendments in 8th grade, I had a chance to play tag, paint, engage in literary discussions, learn a song and dance, do a science experiment, practice improv games, and sit on the rug for quiet story time. Every day that I devoted to classroom visits was enlightening, inspiring, and tons of fun! I witnessed how thoughtful our teachers are in designing their programs, not only for their own students, but also across disciplines and grade levels. I was impressed by how our students embody our school’s values of empathy and inclusion through their classroom collaborations and outdoor play. To experience Prospect Sierra through the eyes of your students provided me with countless moments of appreciation for our school and our community.

In stark contrast to the vibrancy of each school day at Prospect Sierra, the world around us has been through a devastating time. In the last few weeks I have felt overwhelmed by the devastation, violence, and natural disasters that have hit our country and very close to home. We have wanted to do our part to engage students in conversations about the hurricanes, Las Vegas, and fires, while also protecting young students from developmentally inappropriate information and making sure that they feel safe and hopeful. This is not always an easy task. Below are resources that you may find helpful as your children continue to process difficult news. Please remember that feeling sad builds empathy, and empathy leads to action. It is okay for children to feel sad, as long as you remind them that they are safe. Being industrious and taking action can also build students’ agency and hope. 

Finally, one way I process overwhelming emotions is to write. In 2005 I moved to New Orleans, just weeks before Hurricane Katrina. I evacuated to Houston temporarily and three weeks after that had to evacuate again to Dallas because of Hurricane Rita. To say that I experienced loss, confusion, and instability is an understatement. Surprisingly however, as I wrote, I gained a sense of perspective that was profound and continues to support me through difficult times. You are welcome to read the essay that I wrote below, which was originally published in The Houston Chronicle and is now being used in a school writing curriculum and textbook. I believe that stories bring us together as a community, and we are all in need of community in times like these. I hope you will find some connection to my story below, especially if you have experienced loss or instability recently. My heart goes out to all who have been affected by recent disasters and tragedies. If you have been through a trying time, I hope you will feel comfortable sharing stories and being cared for by our community.

Published as “Vietnam Revisited: “I Was a Refugee Long Before Katrina” in The Houston Chronicle, October 16, 2005

Recently, I’ve found myself struggling to describe where I come from. I have lived in Houston for just over a month, since the day my husband and I left New Orleans with our son and dog, two days before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.

As New Orleans was destroyed before our eyes, I wept for all those who lost their homes and their lives. As sympathetic friends and family called me, begging to help, however, I found it difficult to feel too sorry for myself. Losing my home is not the most momentous thing to ever happen to me. I don’t consider myself a victim of Katrina. I lost my home long before the winds and high waters swept over New Orleans.

I am a refugee from Vietnam, not New Orleans. Thirty years ago, my mother left Vietnam with her six children, carrying little else but a valise packed with sepia-toned photographs and a heart full of courage and faith. My father was in prison, and my mother had to make the decision to leave without him in order to save her children from re-education camps or death. She was headed for America, where she didn’t speak the language, didn’t know anything about the culture, and knew no one.

In 1975, when we came to the States, we were refugees. We huddled together at Camp Pendleton in California, until we were sent to Alexandria, Virginia, where a Roman Catholic church had offered us sponsorship.

Shortly after we arrived in America, we learned of my father’s miraculous escape from Vietnam, just hours before the fall of Saigon. With incredible fortune guiding him, my father made the perilous journey from the South China Sea, and eventually to a camp in Pennsylvania, where a U.S. soldier gave him the bus fare to meet his family.

We were very fortunate. Yet, we started with nothing. The church found us housing, but my parents did not have jobs; we had no clothing and no toys. We learned English from scratch, and tried to create a home for ourselves in our new country. We folded paper to make toys and taught ourselves to read. We wore whatever the church parishioners donated to us and had no idea what was fashionable, which in a way gave us some freedom. We were different, but we didn’t try too hard to fit in. And most importantly, we didn’t try to recreate our old lives, the lives we had known in Vietnam.

After their narrow escapes from Vietnam, my parents managed to confront the most daunting task of all—to raise their children in a foreign land.  My parents held full-time jobs, worked overtime and modeled for all of us that perseverance borne out of extreme hardship.  What amazes me most about my parents is that they accepted right away that their stay in America was not temporary. They would never return home.

I, on the other hand, could not help but find my way back to the place where I was born, some 25 years after I had left Saigon. When I arrived, however, I found myself very much a foreigner.  I dressed, walked, and talked differently.

Some locals spoke to me doubtfully in Vietnamese, but I could see on their faces that they didn’t expect me to understand them. I sought out my parents’ former home in Saigon, and snapped some pictures. Later, I found out that I had never actually lived there.  In my search for home, I only found myself to be a stranger.

When I hear from others affected by Hurricane Katrina that they are mourning the loss of their childhood home, or the home that belonged to their family for generations, I feel great sympathy for them. In a strange way, I also feel envious that they have such a clear image of what was their home. After all of these evacuations and refugee experiences, the only thing I’m sure of is that I can’t call any place home. My home no longer exists as a picture in my mind, or as a warm memory embedded in my soul. I don’t have a home.

Yet, I didn’t lose my home to Katrina.  In fact, I have lost nothing. I have only gained. I have gained perspective. I have gained a deep sense of gratitude for all those who have reached out to me and my family 30 years ago and today. I have gained a powerful resiliency and, most importantly, an appreciation for the grace that I have experienced in my life.

My one-year-old son talks a lot, but up until last week, had never completed a coherent full sentence. All of a sudden, a few days ago, he said, “I love you.”

I don’t know how my journey has led me to this place—America, Houston, in a grocery store parking lot with my son and hearing his first full sentence. But I do know that feeling the comfort of home is not what’s most important.

I suppose I will always be searching for my home, but I am also certain that I will never find it. And I hope I never do. The journey, as difficult and tiring as it can be, is worth it.

“How Teachers And Schools Can Help When Bad Stuff Happens,” Anya Kamenetz, KQED Mindshift
“Explaining the News to Our Kids,” Common Sense Media

A Design Challenge that Goes Deep

Collaborating in groups is daily work at Prospect Sierra. But before students dive in, they think about how they’d like to collaborate and together, define a shared set of expectations for this group work. At the start of the school year, new groups are formed and this week students conducted a design challenge as part of this process of setting expectations.

First, they brainstormed how they want to feel when working in groups and behaviors that they believe support these feelings. Feelings they hope to feel include respected, excited, supported, confident, and included. Behaviors that support these feelings included not talking over one another, recognizing each other’s positive contributions, taking turns, being brave, and sharing ideas.

Then, to help the process take on life, they learned that a creature named “Harry” (a puffball with eyes) was feeling sad because he could not see well enough at the table top level. They were then tasked with creating a perch for Harry that kept him safe from an elevated height, with a time limit and set of materials to work with. After building their perches, groups had to evaluate how well they had followed their agreed upon behaviors, giving and receiving feedback about where they had been successful and where they could improve.

What appears to be a simple hands-on project, building Harry’s new perch, is actually a great example of how we use collaboration and design thinking to help our students think deeply, build empathy for others, develop their own self-knowledge around emotions, and practice working through challenges with others.