By Heather Lynn Ward, MSW, LSW, CPS, Coordinator of School and Family Programs
Today's students deal with more protocols than students in the past. It's not just fire drills and bus evacuations anymore. Today, there are drills for things like lock-downs and active shooters, preparing the youth and teachers for worst-case scenarios. Anticipating the "what if's" has become a normal practice, but sometimes, life throws a curve ball no one is ready for.Just as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic surprised the world, no one could have predicted the sudden shift to "long distance learning" or "remote learning," meaning no face-to-face or in-school learning.
I have been an educator for over 13 years. I have seen how youth and young adults I work with respond to environmental crisis. We usually think about primary school, elementary through high school, but we must remember there are thousands of college students in our communities as well. College students today grew up with the experience of lock-down drills and other crisis preparations. They're adept at navigating and overcoming challenges put in their path.I got to see some of this ingenuity and perseverance firsthand about two weeks ago as I walked into my undergraduate classroom at Rutgers University and spoke with my students about the challenges ahead. However, at the time, we were unaware that three weeks would turn into the rest of the semester.
After ensuring the semester's classwork would be accomplished, the social worker in me wondered how they felt in general about what was happening. The response I received was one of anxiety and worry. Some students were overwhelmed with completing classwork when some necessary computer programs were only accessible through college computer labs. Others had larger concerns of moving from residence halls, and a few international students were worrying if they would be able to get home.
As these concerns were being aired, something amazing happened. Right before my eyes, a flow of ideas on how to help each other out filled the room. I was in awe of my students. Despite their own concerns, they were trying to help one another! This is something that I believe gets lost in times of chaos. We see the worst in people sometimes before we see the best. The chaos and fear caused by a growing health crisis often brings panic and an "every man for himself" attitude.
Yes, this is a scary time and definitely something most, if not all, of us in the country have not seen or experienced before. But in spite of this, I challenge all of us to be like my college students. It is okay to be worried or anxious, but it is more important to have compassion for those around you.
Try smiling at the checkout person instead of fussing about the new rules or protocols in place. Next time you are outside, and yes this is great time to get outside, smile and wave to your neighbors. See what they are doing to have fun while at home and share your ideas of things to do. Brainstorming can help make the days go by easier and faster. If you have elderly neighbors or neighbors with mobility issues, check in on them, see if they need anything and offer to pick it up for them if you can.
It is known that helping others not only allows us to get out of our own heads for a while, but also makes us happier. This does not mean we are forgetting about our own troubles. It simply allows us to offer hope to those who need it.
President Barack Obama once said, "The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don't wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope."