by Liz Loftus, 2017 Regional Teacher of the Year
As I sat at the little kitchen table in my little brick house on little Whidbey Island during winter break, catching up on paperwork and other things, nothing much was bothering me. I was warm. I had food in my fridge. I had a mug that was repeatedly filled with coffee. I had the messy leftovers of Christmas celebrations littered throughout my house. But, when I stopped to think about my students, the anxiety crept in.
I was worried about them. What was winter break like for them? Some of my students had a wonderful break, I am sure. They come from loving, stable homes. They have enough food to eat and more than enough toys to play with. But that isn’t the case for all my students.
I know at least one of them spent the colder-than-usual vacation sleeping in a pop-up camper parked in his grandpa’s front yard. I know several of my students spent their nights cold and underfed in small apartments or trailers. I know some of my students experienced neglect, were victims of or witnesses of abuse, and missed the safety of school.
Every January when we return from winter break, both myself and the staff I work with try to reintegrate and reacquaint our students with school routines and expectations.
For many of our students, winter break is a huge setback. They were left without the supports we provide for two whole weeks. They had no counselor available to them; they had no access to clean clothes or extra food. They had no access to safe adults who care for more than just their academic needs.
They lived in crisis for two whole weeks. We must repair that.
After every winter break, I am sure to see a huge spike in behavior outbursts. I am sure my students will be more emotional and angry after their time spent away. It feels like the first weeks of school all over again.
For many of my students, school is the only place that meets all of their needs. But even we struggle to do that. Our guidance counselor sees too many children every day and not every student who needs an appointment gets one. We have a mental health counselor that comes 2 days a week to offer services to a limited amount of students. We have a small number of food backpacks to send home on Fridays. We spend money out of our own pockets to buy clothes and snacks and materials.
I read about Governor Inslee’s education budget proposal, and for the first time in a long time, I had hope:
As 2017 gets underway, I have more to be hopeful for than ever before. I hope that our state legislators take a long, hard look at what the governor is proposing to spend on education. We can never spend enough, and therefore can never do too much to help make a difference for our kids. I will continue to work hard providing all of the things my students need, caring for the whole child instead of parts, and I look forward to not doing it alone.
Liz Loftus is a 2017 Regional Teacher of the Year. She is a board-certified behavioral analyst who teaches students with Emotional Behavioral Disorders at Olympic View Elementary in Oak Harbor, Washington
Amy Abrams, Kent