Carmon Parker, a special education teacher at Harriet Beecher Stowe (HBS) Elementary School in Brunswick has always wanted families to feel connected and supported through her Social Emotional Behavioral program. When classroom-based learning was paused in March of 2019 at the onset of COVID-19, she really felt these values intensify.
Pre-pandemic photos from the HBS Social Emotional Behavioral program:
Not being able to see her students gave her a sense of helplessness because it meant that it would be that much harder to able to maintain those critically important connections with her students. Like many teachers and school administrators, Ms. Parker quickly shifted gears to help take the pressure of “keeping up” off her students’ plates and the fear of regression off their family’s minds. She focused on staying connected in creative ways since they couldn’t physically be together.
She did this at first by scheduling zoom meetings where she worked with students on mindfulness practices, emotional regulation, and social skills. “These meetings were also a time for students and families to ask questions, to help ease anxieties, and constantly reassure and remind students that one day we would all be together again,” said Ms. Parker.
Along with classroom zoom meetings, they also made scheduled times to include other school community members that students had meaningful relationships with including teachers, administrators, and staff members that students saw on a regular basis around school. She even helped organize a birthday car parade for one of the students. “I believe this helped us all feel that we were still together, even when apart,” recalls Ms. Parker.
As zooms became the norm and hybrid class schedules started to take shape in schools across Maine, Ms. Parker continued to adapt to the situation too, by making in-person time as productive and positive as possible while also taking advantage of time outside of the classroom to maintain relationships and add an extra layer of learning with her students.
Thinking ahead during the initial building closures in the spring, Ms. Parker wrote and received a Brunswick Community Education Foundation Grant that allowed her to order calming sensory items for her classrooms (humidifiers, essential oils, sound machines, etc.) which she has used to improve in-class experiences for students in her program.
In addition, with the support and help from the families of her students, she was able to create safe outdoor learning experiences that helped bolster relationship building, among so many other positive learning and experiential opportunities for her students (and her). Ms. Parker spent many weekends connecting with her students and their families around activities that they could all enjoy together like surfing and skiing. “Her commitment and care for her students during an exceptionally challenging time has helped them to be resilient. They feel safe and supported and Ms. Parker has gone above and beyond to make sure they feel the love,” a parent said.
In reflecting back on the many changes that came along with the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Parker writes that, “the silver linings that have come from this are having more time to connect and build relationships with families, further strengthening relationships with students, and channeling my energies into what and who brings me joy.”
“Being apart from my students and team (my best friends) was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. It forced me to explore other passions such outdoor activities and photography. Our first day back at school, after 186 days of being apart, I shared pictures with my students of all the adventures I had. With the main message being, they would always be my greatest one.”
Family Engagement Activity – Capture Your Beauty:
Information for this article was provided by Carmon Parker and a parent of one of her students as part of the Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign. The Maine Schools Sharing Success Campaign is an avenue for Maine schools to celebrate successes and share innovative ideas, practices, and models that can be adapted and easily implemented by other Maine schools. Stories are not an endorsement of specific materials, services, or practices and are not intended to promote learning programs that are of cost to students, families, or schools. To submit a story or an idea, email it to Rachel at firstname.lastname@example.org.