Homeschooling is a challenge. But imagine being a teacher right now - leading a classroom, virtually, through the highs and lows of the COVID-19-inspired shelter-in-place order. Cynthia Nixon, a fifth-grade teacher at Santa Fe Christian Schools in Solana Beach, has taken this challenge head-on.
With schools closed and uncertainty everywhere, Nixon must walk a fine line between maintaining her students' education and easing their stress and anxiety. One way she's doing that, is by asking her students to create thoughtful notes and art for caregivers at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.
"This year, we've been studying a lot about thinking of others," she says. "This is such a small thing that we can do, but in the life of an 11-year-old, they can tangibly put their faith into action."
The impact of caregivers on our children
When Nixon rolled out the project, she wasn't sure how her students would take to it. Despite the daily Zoom classes and weekly routine of assignments, it isn't easy to keep kids connected when they're physically miles apart. But the project caught on like wildfire.
"I first posted the assignment late on Sunday evening," she says. "And even though our first class wasn't until 9:30 on Monday morning, several of the students had already finished their cards, and were eager to share them."
One of the students' biggest inspirations was the fact that several classmates have parents or older siblings who are medical professionals - some of whom work directly with COVID-19 patients. Knowing that someone close to them had a strong connection to caring for our community brought a sense of camaraderie and empathy.
"They realized there are a lot of people out there doing this work, and they wanted to say thank you," Nixon says. "They recognize that there are individuals out there that are knowingly putting themselves directly in harm's way to help other people whom they know are sick. We're trying to stay away from people even when we think they aren't sick. So the children had such a sense of gratitude."
And that gratitude paid forward. In Sharp Grossmont Hospital's meditation lounge, the students' notes and pictures are prominently displayed, easing caregivers' anxiety. It is a peaceful space to feel grounded and centered, and now the students' sentiments add another layer of support and kindness.
"It's impossible not to smile when you see their work and read their sentiments," says Bruce Hartman, director of marketing and communications at Sharp Grossmont. "There was much effort put into each picture, and their words show so much appreciation. I know it is having a positive impact on everyone here at the hospital, from front-line caregivers to the staff who support them."
The next phase
Nixon continues to feel proud and inspired by her students' work. The cards for caregivers project reinforced what she already knew - that kids have an unparalleled sense of empathy. And it has started a trigger effect throughout the class.
"They have taken it upon themselves to show their appreciation in other ways now," she says. "One of my students was so inspired that she made a poster for her mail carrier. Others wrote a note, thanking the governor for all of his work. And some have started a side business, making art and bracelets, and giving donations to organizations that are helping people."
Nixon sees the project as another layer of their learning, equally as important as solving math equations or writing poems. She now assigns a new gratitude project each week, calling it "Operation Appreciation." The kids work together to identify others in the community who they can thank, from the local police and fire departments to the grocery store.
While it may seem like a small thing, Nixon reminds her students that they, too, are doing their part to keep their community safe. "That's what this whole shelter-in-place thing is all about, right?" she says. "These kids may not be high risk necessarily, but they're staying home to help prevent the spread to people who could get really sick."
As caregivers get up each day and walk through the doors of the hospital, an entire city behind closed doors thanks them for their dedication and sacrifice. And for a small class of fifth-graders in Solana Beach, this support shines brightly.
"For the people at the front lines, we know this is probably exhausting and scary," Nixon says. "So we want to give them a minute to know that we're rooting for them. And we really are."