Entering kindergarten for the very first time is hard enough, but as LBUSD’s Class of 2034 crossed the threshold into Room 19 for the first time this fall, little was known about the impact COVID-19 would have on their impressionable hearts and minds. While some students had a small taste of school with distance learning, some never experienced transitional kindergarten or preschool, marking kindergarten as their first time in an in-person school environment. They had to push through the first-day butterflies without a parent or guardian by their side and had to meet their teacher and peers while only being able to recognize them through their eyes above a mask. Students also had to learn to navigate relationship building and how to read and express emotions with eye contact alone until the mandatory mask mandates were lifted in March 2022.
Throughout the year, kindergartners (and all students) have navigated through obstacles and found invaluable coping skills along the way. In Mrs. Blanton’s kindergarten class at El Morro Elementary School, teaching students how to use their own strengths and mindsets to overcome personal challenges is a core value and sets them up for lifelong success. One important method that Mrs. Blanton employs with students is teaching the strategy of self-talk and repeating the mantra “you got this!” whenever they need support in overcoming a difficult personal challenge. Mrs. Blanton walks the talk and regularly models her thinking and actions with students so they integrate the essential mindsets and skills of persistence, bravery, and positive self-talk.
One kindergarten student took Mrs. Blanton’s enthusiastic teaching to heart. Noelle had previously experienced a barrier over speaking to large groups of classroom peers, also known as a fear of public speaking. She was working with El Morro’s school counseling intern, Ms. Tristyn Wong, to help her generalize her already avid and confident reading skills to the emotionally challenging task of reading and speaking in public. To support Noelle’s growth in working through her fear, Ms. Wong challenged her to read the story, Creepy Carrots to her entire class. Noelle had also learned an important life lesson from Mrs. Blanton that completing a challenging or worrisome task is sometimes more easily accomplished with a friend by your side. Noelle’s friend Gunner stepped up and volunteered to help her out and hold the microphone while she conquered her fear of reading and speaking aloud to the entire class.
Noelle embraced the challenge and found the bravery, persistence, and grit to read Creepy Carrots aloud to her entire class of peers. Given the impact of that emotional win, Noelle decided the whole class should have a “Brave Day” because it is important for everyone to be brave in trying something new. Mrs. Blanton wholeheartedly agreed and made plans for a whole class Brave Day. When being brave, Mrs. Blanton first taught her class that brave people must have a “brave stance.” The entire class popped up to their feet together and demonstrated their very own brave stances that would solidly ground them to take on any new challenges or obstacles in their way. Some students had fists on their hips with wide feet, while others had puffed-up chests and their chins up high to show their brace stance.
In order to make Brave Day genuinely come alive, Mrs. Blanton asked students’ families to send pillowcases to school with their kindergarten students so they could make “brave capes,” a way to remind them that each and every one of them could be as brave as a superhero and conquer their fears.
A few days before Mrs. Blanton’s planned celebration of courage on Brave Day, the sudden and sad news of Mr. Duddy’s passing spread throughout the school. Many students expressed their feelings of sadness and fear, and Mrs. Blanton reminded them that while she too felt this way, it was simply their love oozing out of their hearts for Mr. Duddy. Instead of waiting for the official Brave Day planned for later in the week, Mrs. Blanton shared with her class that she needed to wear her brave cape on that day to work through the sadness and emotions that she was feeling. The entire kindergarten class joined Mrs. Blanton on the day of Mr. Duddy’s passing, dawning their brave capes all day to stand courageously together through the challenging day of loss. Additionally, students asked Mrs. Blanton if they could take their brave capes to and from school to help them feel courageous while on the bus or at home, exemplifying the true impact of the lesson.
One student shared that his brave cape reminds him of home and helps him be brave because it smells like the candles his mom burns at home. Another student decorated his cape like Superman and made an additional cape for his brother decorated like Batman to remind them to be brave like their favorite superheroes.
Regardless of what we may experience throughout our lives, we will all come across challenges that may induce feelings of fear and worry and ultimately require bravery and courage to overcome. As we learned in Mrs. Blanton’s kindergarten class, when those intense feelings bubble up, remember to pop to your feet and get into your brave stance, put on your brave cape, and push through to conquer your fears head-on and preferably with a buddy. The mindset of bravery always lives side-by-side with experiences that cause feelings of fear, and forever remember, “you got this!”