Feb 19, 2021

Encouraging social and emotional mindfulness

A mental health awareness workshop at KPS.
A mental health awareness workshop at KPS.

After an initial reopening in October, November 2020 saw our schools being closed down again, with our teachers still coming to school (as per government directives) and students coming in small numbers only to get their homework checked. To ensure that students felt a connection to their schools we continued to conduct virtual programs and lessons designed to be student-centric. Following up with the theme of community and health, we introduced Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) modules which encouraged students to learn more about their own emotional and social behaviors and navigate them through art-based activities.

SEL generated an unanticipated enthusiasm, in teachers and students alike, which us made us realize that while students were hit hard by the consequences of this pandemic, our government school teachers also had to keep with anxieties incurred at the professional and personal level. And so, starting in December 2020, we conducted a series of Mental Health Awareness workshops for teachers at both of our schools, led by our counsellor, Naila. We aimed to include our entire teacher population in these sessions, however due to the pandemic there were some who missed out, despite which approximately 130 teachers attended the workshops.

These workshops were structured to first introduce an awareness of ‘mental health’ and then move into building an empathetic environment conducive to teamwork and learning.

The first session of this workshop established the foundation of what ‘mental health’ is, addressed the taboos that surround it and examined what therapy and counselling really is. Through this the counsellor encouraged introspection about how teachers envisioned behaviors and their own actions as functions of mental health. Upon assessing responses to questionnaires distributed before and after the workshop, it became clear that participants had developed a more nuanced awareness of how adults and children alike can benefit from counselling and emotional regulation.

The second session built on the theme of empathy, asking teachers to consider how to create a positive and healthy environment in school. In this session Naila focused on the sense of community that teachers felt with each other, especially through an activity where each teacher wrote one positive thing about another. According to her, the kind-hearted responses in these sessions did wonders for self-confidence and community building.  An accompanying task included distributing inflated balloons and telling the participants that the victor would be the individual with an undamaged balloon. What followed was a delightful flurry of activity of teachers protecting their balloons while popping another’s. At the end of it however, they were reminded that had no one popped balloons, they all would have been winners thus prompting a consideration of what positive teamwork can look like.

When we asked for feedback, not only did we receive an outpouring of positive and satisfied responses, we also saw indications of genuine introspection and appreciation for starting this conversation. One mentioned, “This session taught me about maintaining healthy relations with co-workers, respecting each other and learning from one another.” Multiple teachers commented that they would like to see similar sessions being conducted again.

Our vision of transforming government schools in Pakistan has never been isolated from the development of our amazing teachers. While Covid-19 continues to present challenges, it is inspiring to see our teachers enthusiastically embrace these opportunities to inform and expand their own knowledge. With our schools reopened again (as of February) and teachers like these, it becomes easy to have faith in our vision of transforming education across Pakistan.

Teachers from SMB attending the workshop.
Teachers from SMB attending the workshop.
KPS teachers intently listening to the counsellor.
KPS teachers intently listening to the counsellor.
An interactive balloon activity to promote empathy
An interactive balloon activity to promote empathy
KPS teachers line up for an interactive activity.
KPS teachers line up for an interactive activity.

Links:

Jan 15, 2021

Art in the time of COVID 19

A winning submission - competition on Child Rights
A winning submission - competition on Child Rights

Since our last update, the COVID 19 pandemic has continued to make life uncertain for the children in our adopted government girls schools of SMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls School (SMB) and Khatoon-e-Pakistan (KPS). October saw a reopening of schools with strict safety precautions in place - fifteen students were allowed to attend their art classes at a time with the freedom of using different mediums to create their artworks, to limit sharing implements. November was a tough reminder that we are not out of the woods yet as the lockdown was imposed and children were back at home once again creating their art as best they could with the material available. Despite the uncertainty students adapted to the challenges presented this time and were able to produce amazing work, even competing in multiple art competitions.

Art Competitions

Our students participated in a competition on Child Rights and Child Justice organized by Group Development Pakistan. Prior to this, students attended an online workshop in which they were introduced to the concept of child rights and the intent of the competition. Guided in person by their teachers (as by now schools had reopened), they sent in some very moving submissions, the best of which were selected to be showcased in Child Courts being established in Karachi. A student from KPS won 3rd place for her artwork in another competition on ‘Fighting Corruption for a Better Future’ organized by the Government of Sindh. Two students acquired a winning position in yet another art competition at the Art Council on tackling plastic pollution. Most recently, students are participating in an inter school art competition by the Korangi Academy, creating art on topics like ‘women empowerment’ and ‘your contribution to the development of Karachi.’

Learning Art not just for Art’s sake

The children weren’t the only art students at this time. In the most recent school shutdown starting November, students were away but government teachers frequented the schools to conduct online classes and check students’ homework. A group of government teachers from the SMB Government Girls School took the initiative to approach teachers from the art program to better their own art skills and help them teach different subjects in a holistic manner. The teachers – mostly from Kindergarten classes and the first grade – attend weekly workshops with an art teacher, seeking to learn art activities which would support their teaching of core subjects like Science and the languages better. Additionally, they also learned artistic techniques like shadow drawing to better their own skills.

Other Art Activities

            At home, students used what they could find around the house, and created interesting pieces of craft with the direction of their art teachers. A simple element which was seasonal, inexpensive and widely available was wool. Students used wool to make cute winter chicks, yarn hats and the more advanced grade 8 students made wool clutches/wallets. Paper was considered for many activities apart from sketching and drawing, Grade 7 students used paper to create a model for a room, watches, rings and even a cake. Young students also repurposed buttons as pieces to contribute to their art work about nature.

Whereas at home, art became a way to stay occupied and be expressive and creative indoors, with schools remaining open in October, children were able to come to school and were given many activities which would enhance their learning including lessons in Life Skills based Education.

Workshop by Group Development Pakistan
Workshop by Group Development Pakistan
Another wining piece - Child Rights Competition
Another wining piece - Child Rights Competition
For art competition on tackling plastic pollution
For art competition on tackling plastic pollution
On the theme of women empowerment
On the theme of women empowerment
Government teachers attend art workshop
Government teachers attend art workshop
Students working in Art class in October at KPS
Students working in Art class in October at KPS
Button Activity by Grade 4
Button Activity by Grade 4
Life Skills based Education for Grade 2 students
Life Skills based Education for Grade 2 students
Model room in papercraft - by Grade 7
Model room in papercraft - by Grade 7
Woolen wallet made by Grade 7 student
Woolen wallet made by Grade 7 student
Dec 28, 2020

Our Caretakers in the New Normal

Caretaker staff working hard to continue with SOPs
Caretaker staff working hard to continue with SOPs

“The children come and tell me they miss coming to school and breakfast meals, and I miss feeding them.” Jamna.

You may remember Jamna from our last email about her, her daughter and the impact of the essential food packages we had distributed. A staple of the breakfast program at the Khatoon-e-Pakistan Government Girls School (KPS), Jamna has been here for three years. Since the recent lockdown, government regulations have been followed and only a few children come to school, sometimes, to get their work checked by the teachers. This is the limited interaction that Jamna gets with the children now.

Prior to the recent lockdown, in the month of October, the breakfast program was renewed with the 317 young children in the program from Khatoon-e-Pakistan Government Girls School (KPS) and SMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls School (SMB). At this time in KPS, as per the Standard Operating Procedures, the children were allocated to multiple classrooms to ensure that they would not be in contact, whereas normally they would get together to enjoy their breakfast in the breakfast room.

The students were distributed, as the second graders used the breakfast room, the Kindergarten students and first graders remained in their own classrooms (nursery students who would normally also partake in the program were unable to this school year, as due to the pandemic, no new enrollments took place). To adapt to this major change, the menu was changed so that it could be delivered to classrooms more easily and to reduce the chances for spill over. Jamna had extra help and made the added effort needed to ensure that the children would all get their breakfasts at the same time.

She expressed her disappointment at not being able to feed the younger children as she normally had to feed the nursery and kindergarten students and had become very attached to them. “Children are willing to eat everything with me” Jamna remarked when asked if there was anything in particular the children did not like eating. Most children however, she found, liked egg and chappati as well as alloo ka paratha and fruit chaat but were not as keen on channa chaat. As winter approached in October, the breakfast menu replaced fruit chaat with a helping of mashed potatoes.

“I’ve been here for more than 10 years and these children feel like my own now that mine have grown up.” Abida.

A huge part of the breakfast program in SMB Fatima Jinnah Girls School is Abida. Here, the breakfast program in October, catered to around 130 students from the KG2 grade level. Ordinarily this program would include children enrolled in the KG1 classes however due to the onset of the pandemic, enrollment has been suspended.

Prior to the pandemic, two to three sections of the classes would attend the breakfast room at a time for their breakfast meals, in October however, half of the children came on alternative days so there were fewer children on a given day and two were seated per table. Additionally, as Abida noted, cleanliness and distancing became a major concern, as the children remained in their classrooms for their meals, the teachers ensured that the classroom remained clean and Abida, along with Rubina (another member of the kitchen caretaking staff) cleaned the utensils to maintain COVID 19 prevention.

Although Abida had her own apprehensions about the risk of exposure her work posed, she maintained that children were innocent and fragile – they needed care and direction, it was necessary to be present for them and show them the importance of handwashing and masks. She also noted the importance of the breakfast program and the enthusiasm the children had to come back to school.

Jamna - valued member of caretaker staff in KPS
Jamna - valued member of caretaker staff in KPS
Abida - seasoned member of caretaker staff at SMB
Abida - seasoned member of caretaker staff at SMB
Young student enjoying breakfast in October at SMB
Young student enjoying breakfast in October at SMB
 
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