How to nurture families in need outside the classroom

Robyn Brown says like many educators, she's worrying about the students and families outside her school walls. "The message I have repeated to families each day is that we are still 'here,'" she says. "We are going to get through this together, and we will see you again soon."

'We are still here,' early childhood educator tells vulnerable kids; 'We are not leaving you.'

Longtime early childhood educator Robyn Brown: "I have never been so proud to be part of this field." (Submitted by Robyn Brown)

Like many educators, I have spent the past few sleepless nights worrying about the students and families outside our school walls. 

Just as teachers are scrambling to support students academically over the unexpected closures, we are also doing our best to support the students and families who see our schools as an extension of home. 

Without school, children who participate in breakfast programs are now at home and parents are tasked with taking care of another meal during the day. 

Without school, parents may not have someone in their corner who can call and check in to see how they are doing. 

Without school, the safe space that students can enjoy for approximately seven hours a day is taken away. 

Instead of giving in to my own fear, I am trying to choose kindness.

With the city creeping toward a shutdown of things deemed beyond the scope of essential services, we are facing an unprecedented certainty of social distancing and isolation. 

For people who are already isolated due to socioeconomic factors, the looming reality of key resources becoming unavailable can be downright frightening. 

My bright and cheerful classroom is a good reminder that when we can safely return to our normal routines, our students will be welcomed back into this 'safe space' with open arms. 

But looking around this week, I am also reminded of the quiet that lingers in the air as we prepare to stay home.

My usual schedule of parenting programs and drop-in services has been replaced with phone calls and emails to check in and connect parents with as many tools as possible to set up for success; doorstep drop-offs of food from Winnipeg Harvest and sealed diapers sent home in backpacks. 

Robyn Brown's loaded up with groceries destined for families in need outside the classroom. (Submitted by Robyn Brown)

Instead of giving into my own fear, I am trying to choose kindness. 

The message I have repeated to families each day is that we are still "here" — we are not leaving you. We are going to get through this together, and we will see you again soon.  

Whether we like it or not, the support being taken away from the 'institutions' we argued about just weeks ago, is happening. 

Our city is filled with helpers right now.

The doors are closing, but the needs aren't going away. Parents will need to access food banks, but local spots are becoming scarce. 

Parents will need to find diapers, but transportation is tricky. The bottom line is that parents need support — and now, more than ever, they need us to choose kindness. 

I appreciate that we all have different views, and that we can respectfully disagree. But these latest developments have proven that despite our differences, we are all in the same boat. 

The social normalities we have taken for granted will be on hold for awhile, and we are encouraged to take care of each other in new ways. 

The sleepless worries I experienced last night were replaced this morning with the reassurance of co-workers, family, friends and neighbours who have dipped into their own supplies — and wallets — to make sure that our community members are cared for, and their cupboards are stocked. 

Our schools are making plans to ensure our families are supported while at home, and our students are being reassured that we will be waiting here for them when they return.

We are still here. We are not leaving you. 

In the words of the ever-empathetic Fred Rogers: "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." 

Our city is filled with helpers right now, and none of them are obligated to do it. 

They are doing it because they are choosing kindness when they feel that darkness is creeping in.

And one day, we can look back and see that we were better together when we were forced to be apart.  

This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Robyn Brown is an early childhood educator, family centre co-ordinator and parent in Winnipeg.