Our Blog

Grand-families: A different call to action

Guest blog by NJAAW Board member Dr. Charisse Smith.

In the spring of 2020, I heralded a call to action for grand-families across New Jersey. Grandparents and other older family members bravely took on the challenge of helping their students with remote or virtual learning during COVID-19.

They assisted their young students with logging onto such online learning platforms as Zoom, Google Classroom, Google Meets, Canvas and plenty of other sites dedicated to virtual instruction. Uploading, downloading, links, passwords, usernames, mousepads, iPads and screenshots had become familiar vernacular for these now tech-savvy older warriors of the web. 

This school year, students are back in their classrooms and the laptops and tablets have taken a backseat to in-person instruction.

Additional challenges for in-person learning

Many students are finding it difficult to adjust to a very long and very different type of school day. Masking, social distancing, quarantining and other COVID-19 school protocols have made the school day especially demanding-particularly for the younger ones who had not benefited from any previous type of in-school experience.

Those students who have had the in-person experience of a “normal” school day are also finding it challenging to navigate through an extra set of expectations — wearing masks all day, not sharing materials and sitting socially distanced from friends in the cafeteria — in addition to catching up to grade-level expectations.

Since students returned to school, educators and parents have expressed concern about learning loss due to the shortcomings of virtual learning and the lack of “real school” social interactions.

To help students adjust to the social and academic demands, schools have added an additional layer of supportive learning opportunities to the student day: Social Emotional Learning (SEL).

What is Social Emotional Learning?

According  to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), SEL is “the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotion, and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships and make responsible and caring decisions.”

There are public school districts in NJ — Westfield, Deptford, Clayton, Paulsboro, Readington, Eatontown and Jackson among them — that have adopted SEL curricula, which address student self- and social-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making and relationship skills.

When schools are committed to the tenets of an SEL curriculum, the strategic instructional opportunities and practices enhance a positive classroom climate and help students become self-aware, caring, responsible and engaged lifelong learners.

I am again heralding the call to our Grand-families–partner up!

As grand-families and caregivers, you can also support in-school SEL by finding out about your school’s SEL curriculum and becoming more involved with your student’s school.

The benefits of grand-family/school partnerships

Grand-families partnering with schools that support SEL provide a win-win for the entire school community. Intergenerational older adult/student relationships provide wonderful opportunities for SEL and development.

Stanford University psychology professor and Founding Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, Laura Carstensen, states that as we age, our brains improve in the areas of complex problem-solving and emotional intelligence. Both of these are great qualities of a great mentor! Children can benefit from the counseling and experiences older adults can provide.

Carstensen points out that older adults are exceptionally suited to meet the needs of children because both welcome meaningful, productive activity and engagement. Older adults can help children develop self-awareness and empathetic skills that are essential to building healthy relationships in school by cultivating their relationships at home; identifying, communicating and acknowledging emotions, and modeling empathy and coping skills.

Our students thrive when schools and all families partner together. As one of the first in my school community to see students arriving at school, I have observed our older adult family members walking young students to their class lines outside on the blacktop playground. I’ve also heard their morning conversations, which have included making sure that the students are respectful toward their friends when joining their class line and ensuring that they say “good morning” to classmates.

At lunchtime, my first-graders are eager for me to read their “love notes” — words of encouragement and daily affirmations from their grandmas and abuelitas tucked inside their tiny lunch boxes. These are definitely warm-and-fuzzy moments, even for me!

Grand-families, please help our schools!

Schools have room for improvement. Our schools can be consistent in creating spaces where families feel welcome to share their culture, language, wisdom and skills.

Reach out to your child’s school, teacher or principal to develop a partnership. Join your school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) or Parent Association. The skills, wisdom, and time you volunteer may make a difference in how your young family member connects socially and emotionally to school.

Let’s continue this course of positive relationship building and support because we all are family–parents, students, grand-family members and educators. Thank you!

Click here for my list of ideas and resources.

Dr. Charisse Smith

NJAAW Board member Dr. Charisse Smith, principal consultant and owner of Sankofa Educational Consulting, LLC, in Trenton, NJ, is the new Curriculum Supervisor for Social Studies, kindergarten through grade 6, for Trenton Public Schools. A member of the National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa Inc. – Pi Chapter, an organization of professional educators, she and her chapter sisters focus their volunteer efforts on youth, education and service to the Greater Trenton area community. Smith and her husband, Steven, are the proud parents of Raven and Satchel. She is also a caregiver for her parents, Richard and Saundra.

Resources for Grandfamilies: A different call to action

Dr. Charisse Smith
Dr. Charisse Smith

https://www.njaaw.org/2021/11/01/grand-families-call-to-action/These ideas and resources for my guest blog titled “Grandfamilies: A different call to action” are just a small slice of the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) pie. Grand-family members: Our students still need you! Use those SEL skills that have carried you through life and life’s challenges. Thank you!


SEL partnership questions for the student’s school

  • Does this school have multiple ways to maintain two-way communication with families; to invite families to understand, experience, inform and partner with the school to support our students’ social and emotional development?
  • Do families participate in the school’s/district’s SEL team?
  • Does this school or district provide meaningful opportunities for all families to learn and contribute to SEL?

Ways older family members can support SEL

  • Participate in any back-to-school events and parent-teacher conferences (in-person or online)
  • Add yourself as a communication contact between the school and home
  • Share information with the school/teacher about how your child learns best
  • Mentor a student or two
  • Become a from-home volunteer for your child’s school (stapling packets, cutting out laminated decorations, volunteering your translation skills for flyers and information that are shared in the community)
  • Share your culture with your child’s school
  • Help unpack and repack your child’s book bag or backpack to check for important information about school and schoolwork
  • Practice SEL activities with your student

SEL activities you can do at home

  • Dedicate time to talking with your child about their day to help students navigate the art of conversation
  • Pay attention to your child’s behavior before and after school
  • Help establish and maintain routines such as preparing for school in the morning, homework time, playtime, bath time and most importantly, bedtime
  • Establish an open line of communication (texting, FaceTime-ing, etc. with older students)
  • Be aware of “red flags” or changes in “normal behavior” (losing interest in school, friends, or favorite activities), eating (loss or insatiable appetites), and/or sleeping behaviors (unable to sleep, sleeping during school hours)
  • Read books or watch online storytellers that promote SEL
  • Participate in mindfulness exercises together, such as walking, yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, coloring with crayons or colored pencils or watching clouds
  • Attend school SEL activities

Resources for grandparents and others caring for school-age children

  • Why Social-Emotional Learning Is Suddenly in the Spotlight
  • The Whole-Brain Child by neuroscientist and parenting expert Daniel Siegal and Tina Payne Bryson: This New York Times Bestseller explains the child’s developing brain and how we can best support it.
  • Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School by Carla Shalaby: Follow the stories of four different young children, known in their respective classrooms as the “troublemakers.” This radical take encourages us to shift our adult perspective to better understand the and sometimes confusing behavior of children.
  • SEL Framework: CASEL

SEL literature for young readers

About being yourself

  • Yo Soy, I Am by Trenton, NJ-native Jacquelyn León: This is the tale of how a child’s name came to be. It is interwoven with family, history, culture and love, to fortify the connection between the child’s name and the child’s identity to the world. The book celebrates and honors the home as the child’s local roots grow and blossom across the world.
  • Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love: Julián is a boy who lives with his abuela (grandmother) in New York City. Although his preferences and attire may seem unconventional, he is supported by those around him to be himself.
  • The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf: Bulls are supposed to fight, correct? Not Ferdinand. A peaceful and calm bull in the bull-fighting rings of Spain, Ferdinand remains true to himself despite the pressures to change.
  • Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown: Marisol McDonald is a biracial girl with red hair and brown skin. In many ways, Marisol defies the norms and sometimes confuses those around her. She is, however, confidently herself!
  • Each Kindness by Jaqueline Woodson: Chloe and her friends have no interest in playing with Maya, the new girl at school who wears ratty hand-me-down clothes. But when Maya leaves school and Chloe realizes her mistake, she learns that you don’t always get a chance to apologize. 
  • The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig: Brian is unnoticed by the other students in his class. He is never included or invited until the new student, Justin, arrives and shows us that it just takes one friendship to change a person’s life.

About sharing and gratitude

  • A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams: Classic and award-winning story about a family’s home being destroyed by fire. A young Rosa, her mother, and grandmother save their coins to buy a really comfortable chair for all to enjoy.
  • Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister: Rainbow Fish has beautiful glittering scales like no other in the ocean. While at first, he refuses to share his most prized scales, he learns that when he does, he creates invaluable friendships.

About overcoming fear and anxiety

  • The Good Egg by Jory John and Pete Oswald: The Good Egg is always doing what it should, even taking care of the other eggs who are not doing their best. But when the Good Egg’s own shell starts to crack, it realizes that balance and self-care are more important than perfection.
  • Jake the Growling Dog Shares His Train by Samantha Shannon: Follow Jake, a sweet, kind, and misunderstood dog, as he learns more about sharing, facing his fears, and the many remarkable differences in the world

SEL literature for older readers

  • Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson: Jesse’s colorless rural world expands when he becomes fast friends with Leslie, the new girl in school. But when Leslie drowns trying to reach their special hideaway Terabithia, Jesse struggles to accept the loss of his friend.
  • New Kid by Jerry Craft: Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of a few kids of color in his entire grade.
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz: Esperanza thought she’d always live a privileged life on her family’s ranch in Mexico. She’d always have fancy dresses, a beautiful home filled with servants, and her mama, papa and abuelita to care for her. But suddenly, tragedy forces Esperanza and mama to flee to California and settle in a Mexican farm labor camp. 

Grandparents Stepping Up to Assist Grandchildren with Virtual Education

 

Dr. Charisse Smith

As a young child growing up in New Jersey, I recall spending countless summers in the sandy woods of Wall Township with my maternal grandmother, Carolyn Holland.

On her screened-in porch, we spent hours playing such card games as Pitty Pat, War and Casino. This card shark, with less than an eighth-grade education, showed me no mercy, winning game after game! Through these card games, she fortuitously taught me how to quickly identify numbered groups (subitizing*) and strategy (critical thinking).

My paternal grandfather, Robert E. West of Neptune, instructed me in the art of applying the correct tip for great service at the local Perkins Pancake House. Maternal aunt Doris Sergeant of Asbury Park cultivated my love of reading and storytelling through her reading aloud. Her fluctuating animated voice magically fit each and every character of the stories she read.

As I reminisce about these special moments as a wide-eyed, inquisitive youngster, I now appreciate them as authentic learning experiences. I truly cannot recall specific reading or math lessons or feeling that these moments were “school,” but as an educator, I recognize that the benefits of simple card games and stories read to me set me on the path toward academic success.

Although I assist teachers in applying curriculum and best-teaching practices to classrooms, the simple games, conversations and nightly read-alouds with Carolyn, Robert and Doris were invaluable.

COVID-19 and virtual teaching/learning

According to the New Jersey Department of Education, there are approximately 2,734,950 students in New Jersey’s public and charter schools who are now participating in some form of virtual or remote learning due to the COVID-19 crisis. Many New Jersey schools pivoted from photocopied worksheets and packets to working exclusively online with students in virtual classrooms.

In a matter of a few weeks, New Jersey school districts found themselves quickly gathering their troops of learning experts, teachers and educational technology departments to provide quality learning opportunities for all of their students. Families also found themselves banding together to navigate through digital learning platforms like Zoom, Google Classroom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, Class Dojo, Canvas and Blackboard.

Older Americans are teaching/learning, too

Older Americans also fearlessly accepted the call to join the ranks of the virtual homeschooling faculty. Because many parents continue to work as essential workers, older adult family members have been designated as the at-home schoolteacher. These older family members are ensuring that children are logging on, participating and completing school assignments.

One example is a 68-year-old grandmother in Mercer County’s Hamilton Township, Mrs. Jones. She joined the ranks of homeschoolers this March. Mrs. Jones is not only caring for her ill husband, but by working in online learning platforms to assist her kindergarten-aged grandson, has expanded her technological skill set.

Through perseverance and a little bit of coaching, Mrs. Jones is now more comfortable helping her grandson with the daily requirements of cyber-learning such as logging on to online class meetings; monitoring reading, writing, and math assignments in Google Classroom; accessing books online; following up with emails, and communicating with teachers via the Class Dojo app.

Familiarizing oneself with multiple learning platforms can be overwhelming even for the most tech-savvy person. But older Americans, like Mrs. Jones, are courageously balancing the duties of being a caregiver for an ailing spouse, running a household and homeschooling an active kindergartener.

I admire Mrs. Jones for her tenacity and grit during this challenging time. She admits that working with technology is frustrating, and she felt like giving up, but I encouraged her to take care of herself and to do her best. Her best is amazing!

Other ways older adults can share knowledge/expertise

I encourage all older adults who are caring for and/or homeschooling young family members to share their knowledge and expertise by:

  • Having conversations
  • Counting and grouping the number of tiles on the floor
  • Finding a pattern in the carpet
    • *I mentioned subitizing before. Subitizing is a hot topic in math education circles. It means “instantly seeing how many.” Math educators have discovered that the ability to see numbers in patterns is the foundation of strong number sense. Visit https://mylearningspringboard.com/subitizing/
  • Following a recipe using measuring spoons and cups
  • Writing a song together and recording Tik-Tok videos of you singing
  • Coloring in coloring books
  • Listening to books on tape or online together
    • This website features videos of actors reading children’s books, alongside creatively produced illustrations. Activity guides are available for each book. https://www.storylineonline.net/
  • Teaching them how to play a card game

Other resources to use

Older adults have much to give and young people, much to receive! I would dare to guess that there are many Mrs. Joneses here in New Jersey. Are you one? You deserve our gratitude, respect and support.

As a New Jersey educator, I would like to thank all of the caring and brave older Americans in our state who are committed to sharing their knowledge, wisdom, love and expertise to help our students continue to grow and learn!

Dr. Smith is the featured guest on Episode 106 of Aging Insights, with host Melissa Chalker — watch “Learning Together” now!

Dr. Charisse Smith of Trenton earned a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Professional Studies. She serves on the boards of New Jersey Foundation for Aging and Notre Dame High School, is an Instructional Coach with the Hamilton Township Public Schools, President of ETE-Excellence Through Education of Hamilton Township and is the owner of Sankofa Educational Consulting, LLC.  Dr. Smith proudly notes that she has been married for 23 years and has two beautiful children!

 

Contact Us