For months, the students at Nueva Esperanza Leadership Academy (NELA) had been engaged in learning about voting and the election process in their social studies classes. On January 7, Larie Beck, NELA’s Social Emotional Learning Coordinator, headed into school, faced with the dilemma of how to talk to her elementary students about what had unfolded at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., the day prior. Knowing that students likely had been hearing about the insurrection, and leaning on NELA’s philosophy of addressing trauma and fostering community and connection, she offered a safe place for them to talk about the situation.
Mrs. Beck opened the conversation with an unbiased account of the events, explaining to students that it was over. She reassured them that lawmakers had gone back to work when the Capitol was safe and did their jobs to uphold the constitution, emphasizing the importance of that action.
Having the space for questions and conversation, a student who has been working hard to find her voice shared that what she had seen unfold in D.C. reminded her of what had happened at her home a couple of days before. She shared that while she was home with her sister, they saw people outside spray painting their fence and that made her really scared. When her mom arrived home, she called the police but nobody came. Visibly upset, she recounted that the next day the police knocked at their door to tell them their house had been vandalized. They apologized for not coming sooner and offered to have it removed.
“Thank you for sharing. I’m glad you felt safe enough to share with us,” Mrs. Beck said. Seeing that her student needed time to work through her emotions, she calmed her down outside of the classroom. When they came back in, Mrs. Beck asked the students if they had anything to say as fellow caring classmates. One student offered his advice, another cried with empathy, and the oldest of the group comforted her with encouraging words, which made her smile. Each of them had a unique way of processing their own emotions, while standing in solidarity with and caring for their friend.
As difficult as the day was, it helped the students draw positive conclusions. It reaffirmed that students felt safe and brave enough to share; that classmates were able to show support and love; that a deeper connection to self, God and others is in creation. Together they prayed. While the student leading prayer was deeply affected by the Capitol riot, she set aside her fear and prayed not for herself but for the girl who had experienced something traumatic at home. This is the beauty of NELA’s trauma-informed approach, which creates space for students to share openly and provides opportunities for them to engage with the world, whether in their own community or with national events — and sometimes, at the convergence of the two.