In Seattle and other area districts, principals are making counselors available and talking to teachers about how to address their students’ concerns over Donald Trump being elected president.
On Wednesday morning, as she watched families arrive at Midway Elementary in Des Moines, Principal Rebekah Kim saw a Muslim mom she knows well drive up, and asked her to roll down her car window.
Kim told the woman that she loved her — a bold move, but one she felt was necessary following the election of Donald Trump as president, given that he has in the past called for barring Muslims from entering the country.
“She held my hand and said she cried this morning,” Kim said. “I told her I cried, too.”
Earlier that morning, Kim had also held an unscheduled staff meeting, to help teachers prepare to speak with their students about the election and how to support them.
Teachers across the Seattle area were already in new territory before Election Day, struggling to deal with a very contentious race. Now they are trying to figure out how to address the reality of a Trump presidency. As some families across the country celebrate a Trump victory, many others are scared, especially in schools with immigrant and refugee communities.
That fear has shown up in classrooms.
Already, area districts, including Seattle and Highline, have sent out letters to schools and families, assuring them that their schools are safe places for immigrants, refugees and other groups. Schools in those districts and others have made counselors available for staff and students. And teachers are checking in with individual students who may have felt targeted by the Trump campaign.
At Midway, a couple students told their teachers that their families have packed emergency bags in case they have to leave the country.
“A lot of students are worried about being deported,” said special education teacher Matt Pokrywka. “I have heard that from many students from various backgrounds — students from Mexico, the Philippines, Muslim students.”
Highline Public Schools also alerted its counselors that students might want to talk about the election. On Tuesday night, district leaders were all together to monitor the results of a local bond measure, but the conversation turned toward students as the presidential results started coming in, said communications director Rexanne Graham.
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At West Seattle High, 200 students staged a walkout Wednesday morning to protest the election results, then returned to school to speak with Principal Ruth Medsker. In the school’s theater, the group talked about the political process, and then about how students could improve their own school.
“I said, ‘You are political animals and the leaders of tomorrow. How do we go about doing the right work and building a better world?’ ” Medsker said.
Cleveland High School students walked out of class in the afternoon. Cleveland senior Dakaria Heru, 17, said a few students were having a discussion about the election at lunch when they decided to hold the walkout to “have a bigger discussion with our school.” More than 100 people stood outside the Beacon Hill neighborhood school and spoke about how the election affected them and what they could do moving forward.
“The election has affected me greatly,” Heru said. “As a young black girl I am constantly being oppressed. This is upsetting because the young generation is so mature and knows what is going on in the world, but our voices aren’t being heard.”
The walkouts weren’t sanctioned by Seattle Public Schools, but the district is talking with schools about how they can best support students who may be worried, said spokesman Luke Duecy. At Cleveland, for example, teachers met before school to talk about how students might react and how to facilitate conversations.
“It’s a school-by-school, class-by-class, student-by-student basis,” Duecy said. “They’re feeling out what their communities need.”
The election has also served as an impromptu lesson on the government’s system of checks and balances, with teachers assuring students that a president can’t make the rules all by himself. And teachers have also reminded students that presidents don’t always do everything they’ve promised to do during the campaign.
In his social studies classes at Shorecrest High, teacher Brett Vlahovich led “very moderated” discussions Wednesday about the results, why they were shocking, and a breakdown of the Electoral College. He also focused on the idea of hope, he said.
“We still have checks and balances, we still have another election, and we can always change our local scene to reflect out needs,” he said.