From remote learning to pick-up meals, the daily routines of elementary students have been upended due to the Covid-19 pandemic. But, not being in the classroom means more than just missing lessons. It means missing friends, teachers, and school-day norms.
“I know so many of our students are doing Zoom meetings for classes, but they don’t have the opportunity to relax and hang out with their classmates,” said Palmer Elementary school counselor Sandra Tredo.
That’s why Tredo, Bell Elementary school counselor Lori Fisher, and Weeks Elementary school counselor Liz Sharkan have created a “Lunch Bunch”. Each holds Zoom calls to bring students together for something other than academics.
“It gives them a sense of normalcy in this crazy situation we’ve all found ourselves in. I also hope my lunch bunches give a little break to their parents and guardians who have gone above and beyond with taking on their children’s education,” said Mrs. Tredo.
“This is a really isolating time in everyone's lives. If the students leave with the feeling of a little connection to life outside of their home, then I think virtual lunch bunch served its purpose. Honestly, I hang-up every time and personally feel re-energized,” said Mrs. Sharkan.
While the counselors are creating a casual atmosphere, there are specific exercises they engage students in to address their social and emotional needs.
“We start each Fun Lunch Friday with a feelings check-in. Students rate how they’re doing on a scale of one to ten and share why they’re feeling that way. Then we discuss coping skills to help manage our feelings,” said Mrs. Fisher.
“Each week we talk about our ‘roses and thorns’. We share the best thing going on in our lives, and something crummy. Students provide encouragement and frequently find connections between their roses and thorns,” said Mrs. Sharkan.
Students help make the calls fun as well. Weeks 5th grader Madison Hines attends lunch bunch every Friday. One week she set up a disco ball. She sends encouraging messages to everybody through the Zoom chat feature and posts inspirational quotes to Mrs. Sharkan’s Schoology page.
"It's fun because you can see all your friends you haven't seen in a while. You get to talk and joke around. You get to have mini scavenger hunts and dance parties," said Hines.
“It’s fun and I get to see my friends,” said 3rd grader Averie Kerwin.
“You get to see friends you can't FaceTime,” said 5th grader Addison Stockholm.
The trio of counselors have also included each other’s ideas in their calls, from Mrs. Sharkan’s scavenger hunts to Mrs. Tredo’s dance parties. These have led to the most poignant and lighthearted moments.
“When asked to go find something that makes them feel happy, about half of the students went and found their sibling. They brought their sibling back to the screen and gave big hugs. It was truly heartwarming,” said Mrs. Fisher.
“It’s hilarious to see 12 kiddos dancing in their little Zoom squares. Honestly, sometimes it turns into more of a lunch bunch for everybody's pets. We've had rats, snakes, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, lizards, and fish all participate. We had a 'guinea pig' lunch bunch and two students had their screens on the guinea pigs like they were the ones participating. It's hilarious,” said Mrs. Sharkan.
“Dancing during a Zoom call felt a bit silly at first, but I could tell the upbeat music and dancing was boosting the students’ happiness levels, as well as my own. It’s something we can all greatly use these days,” said Mrs. Fisher.
In all, the calls are valuable, but bittersweet.
“It's just another reminder that although we aren't physically in school, students still have their school counselor, and each other,” said Mrs. Sharkan. “There's something about the laughs that students provide that are energizing, but also make me miss them a million times more.”