“When my mentor is with me in class I feel calmer. She knows what to do and where to help…at the end of the day I feel more relaxed and less worried. My feet don’t hurt from running around the room.”
– Teacher at Basalt Elementary School, on what it feels like to have a Parent Mentor in class.
Parent Mentors Support Teachers through Tough Times
It is hard to overstate how difficult the last two years have been for teachers. Balancing the heath of children, teachers, and families against the mental, social-emotional, and physical benefits of in-person learning has been an almost impossible task. Those who taught during the pandemic will have stories to tell their grandchildren about working through COVID, though many may care to forget these years in favor of happier, easier memories. When COVID shut down schools, Valley Settlement’s Parent Mentors also left the classrooms, unsure of when they would return.
“What I like most about being a mentor is standing at the door, watching the children run to greet me. They tell me they love me,” Yenni says with a smile
For Ms. Yenni, the answer to that question was: as soon as possible. Ms. Yenni has been a Parent Mentor for six years, and she was eager to be back in the classroom, helping teachers and children who need extra support. She got permission from the principal to be in the classroom once a week. Yenni also took home projects to support other teachers, preparing activities and materials for the days ahead. It was a huge help for teachers who were under more than the normal amount of stress.
Fortunately for Yenni and her fellow Parent Mentors, the program started up again at the beginning of the 2021/22 school year. “It has been incredible to be back with Parent Mentors as they are back working in the classroom,” says Marlin Gonzalez, the program’s new manager. “The Mentors have built such strong bonds this semester. I feel like they are family.”
Ms. Yenni is proud to have worked in the schools for so long; she started when her daughter was in preschool, and now she is in fifth grade. Staying engaged in the schools as her two children grow older has been rewarding for Ms. Yenni, and she knows how much the teachers value her. When asked what it meant to her to be able to help in schools during the pandemic, Yenni has mixed feelings. “Even though I was there, I couldn’t get close to the kids and teachers…everyone was separated…that was isolating….But it was [also] a liberation for me,” she says, and “became a way to educate myself [about the pandemic].” The liberation, she explains, was from fear and from being isolated at home. The education came from chats with teachers about the virus and how to keep her family safe. “Social media…sometimes doesn’t have the truth,” she says. “Being in school and talking with the teachers helped me understand what was happening.” It also presented an opportunity for her to help her family and neighbors understand the virus and know how to stay safe.
As the pandemic drags on, she and her Parent Mentor colleagues are hoping for a return to normal next year. For now, every day that she gets to be in person supporting children and teachers is a gift, for Ms. Yenni, and for the children and teachers whose lives she touches.