Kids and coronavirus: Lincoln Charter helps assuage fears, stimulate learning

On March 16, a Lincoln Charter School teacher opened virtual announcements on the first day of a two-week school closure with a reassurance.

After a song, she told students watching, "Ladies and gentleman, and dinosaurs out there, I bet you might be wondering what is happening."

Katherine Bright, music teacher for grades K-5, went on to explain why Gov. Tom Wolf closed schools to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which is now a global pandemic.

The statewide mandated closures were initially in effect until March 30, but have been extended to April 7.

More:State Health Dept. adds 20 coronavirus cases Tuesday, statewide total hits 96

"We are not closed because we don’t want to be there, we are not closed because somebody we know has gotten sick, we are closed to stop that from happening," Bright said.

Her approach touches on what the American Academy of Pediatrics deems an important piece of talking to children about the coronavirus — filtering information in ways they can understand.

It was Bright's decision to record videos each morning, but Lincoln's administration loved the idea and encouraged other teachers to do the same.

Lincoln Charter School Principal and CEO Leonard Hart, right, hands a stack of lunches to Jordan Mitchell, 17, of York City, at the school in York City, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. The school obtained a COVID-19 waiver which allows them to serve the meals not only to Lincoln charter students, but to all children on the west end between the ages of 2-18. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Principal and CEO Leonard Hart said the school had grade level and culture and climate team meetings to help break down facts about the virus for students and remove some anxiety.

More:Confusion ensues after Wolf orders some businesses to close

Anxiety is one of the warning signs the American Academy of Pediatrics tells parents to look out for when helping children adjust.

"Children may not be able to express their feelings, but they may show them (i.e. cranky, clingy, distracted, difficulty sleeping)," according to a list of tips.

Shanna Danielson, a parent in Northern York County School District and a middle school band teacher in Cumberland County, said mental health has been one of her main concerns for her students during the crisis.

"As a mom, I’m really so conflicted over asking them to do work," she said. "They’re anxious enough about things." 

Knowing how confusing this all is, she just wants them to be able to focus on their mental well-being, she said.

Hart said since the coronavirus and school closures are the "new normal" for students, it's the school's responsibility to add back in some of the social aspect students have come to know and expect in their daily routines.

Lincoln has been giving away board games — to remind students to have fun — and teachers, including those from English Language Learning and special needs, have been volunteering to post virtual lessons.

Though no one is required to work during the break, Lincoln elected to be proactive with offering instructional materials.

More:York County schools struggle t. make sense of Wolf's shutdown order

Hart has eight weeks of materials prepared and is mailing hard copies to the entire student body, in case some do not have internet access.

In her March 16 video, Bright gave students advice on how to divide up the day — making things, reading, practicing a skill, leaving time to just play, exercising or doing homework.

CEO Dr. Leonard Hart, of Lincoln Charter School, speaks as the school celebrates School Choice week and 20 years offering education in York City, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

If they didn't have internet, she said, they could do experiments, "use your imagination," or sing songs such as "Dos Elefantes" — which at 20 seconds long is also the perfect song to sing while practicing proper hand-washing technique, she said.

"You might feel a little scared and a little nervous and a little like, ‘What is happening?’" Bright said, "but don’t worry, this means that we have the potential to start a learning adventure."