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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.

Learn more, connect with others and get involved.

Learn more, connect with others and get involved.

 Affordable housing, job availability, livable wages, food security these are all key pieces to living and aging well in NJ. A recent article in the Trenton Times highlights the struggle of the homeless in accessing services at three key organizations that provide shelter, food and many other services. In navigating this “triangle” as they call it (due to distance traveled between each organization) some of the homeless in Mercer County have hope of escaping the street and having a home, a job, food, their health.

 Certainly Mercer County is not alone in this problem, throughout the state there are many homeless who find themselves navigating their way through the services available in each area. In addition to the homeless there are those living on the edge of homelessness, they are unemployed, under-employed and living pay check to pay check wondering if this will be the week they end up on the street.

There are many supports available to the homeless and working families, like SNAP (food stamps), SRAP (State Rental Assistance), Family Care (Medicaid/Health insurance) and of course there are many non-profit, charitable organizations that are doing their part to help those in need through various programs and supports. But is it enough?

 There are ways to get involved, to learn more and to connect with other advocates. The Anti-Poverty Network of NJ, a group of like-minded organizations and individuals that meet to strategize on advocacy efforts is holding a summit, Poverty Summit: A Call to Invest in the People of New Jersey on Monday, May 21, 2012 from 9 am to 12:30 pm at the War Memorial in Trenton, NJ. At this summit you will hear statistics on poverty in NJ, you’ll hear from service providers as well as community members who have experienced poverty, but you’ll also here about advocacy efforts and opportunities for you to join in those efforts.

So, please join us to learn more, connect with advocates and get involved. For more details and to register go to http://apnpovertysummit.eventbrite.com/

 PS- You can follow this up by coming to NJFA’s Annual Conference on June 14, 2012 to discuss affordable housing and many other important topics for aging well in NJ! www.njfoundationforaging.org/events.html

New information about changes to the Food Stamp Program (SNAP)

Press Release

Released  on April 6, 2010                                                                                                    

New information about changes to the Food Stamp Program (SNAP)

Trenton- New Jersey’s Food Stamp Program, also known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) has raised its income limits. Previously the income limit was at 130% of the FPL (Federal Poverty Level) and it has now been increased to 185% of the FPL. In some cases, assets such as checking or savings accounts, will not affect eligibility. These two new changes will allow the Food Stamp Program to help more people. During difficult economic times, more people are in need of help to buy food for their families.

As of April 2010, 185% of the FPL means that to be eligible for Food Stamps an individual’s gross monthly income would be $1670 or less and that a couples gross monthly income would be $2247 or less. For larger household add approximately $577 per each additional person.

“These changes are significant for families and seniors who live on the edge of poverty” according to Grace Egan, Executive Director of the NJ Foundation for Aging. “Seniors are under enrolled in this vital community program. We are interested in getting the word out that these changes mean many seniors will now qualify for this program”.

You can find an application for SNAP (Food Stamps) online at www.njfoodstamps.com or at www.njhelps.org, where you can use an online screening tool. For more information or to find your local SNAP office call 1-800-687-9512.

 To learn more about the work of the Foundation visit www.njfoundationforaging.org or call 609-421-0206.

The New Jersey Foundation for Aging was established in 1998 to create ongoing financial support for aging services in New Jersey.  Its mission is to expand innovative approaches in the delivery of services that enable older adults to live in the community with independence and dignity.

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