By Valeria Quezada The Carlsbad Early College High School (CECHS) is fortunate to have a hardworking Social Worker named Maaike Thomas on the front lines during these difficult times. Maaikeis in her 18th year of social work as of this school year. Her journey in this field began when she had just graduated high school. During that time, she realized that New Mexico has a high child abuse and foster care rate. Maaike’s primary concern is the mental health of her students, as well as providing them access to counseling and other resources. Maaike also works as the college career and guidance counselor to the students at the early college. Maaike says, “I make sure their classes from here have future value.” She helps them in their degree planning, career planning, and aligning their college credit courses with their post-high school education. As well as being the school test coordinator and National Honor Society advisor. Maaike has a full plate at her job, but she wouldn’t change anything about it. Her favorite part is being able to meet with all the students and their parents on a 1-on-1 basis each semester. It allows her to get to know her students and their parents. At these independent meetings, they brainstorm for the student’s future, break down any barriers, and get to know each other. It creates a bond between Maaike and her students. It helps them feel more comfortable reaching out to her for any assistance or guidance with problems they’re having. Of course, with the global pandemic going on, Maaike has faced the same problems as other school faculty across the state. The biggest challenge has been accessibility to students. With remote learning, school faculty and students cannot meet face to face. “We miss having our students in front of us physically,” says Maaike. It can be difficult to create a bond with students when they are not physically present. Yet, Maaike has managed to make many adjustments to allow her to connect to the students at the early college. Just like a regular teacher, she has set up a Google classroom to push information out to her students regularly. As well as an email every few weeks to each class grade to update the students and their parents on any new developments or information. As Maaike mentioned, her priority is the mental health of her students. This pandemic has greatly affected the mental health and stability of students. Even with the adaptations put in place by the schools and faculty, many students are suffering, some more than others. She said, “We’ve adapted well, but a lot of students are taking on more responsibility at home that takes away from their learning.” Many students have taken on full-time jobs to support family members who are out of a job, all while keeping up with their school work. Most students are struggling to stay afloat and maintain their grades. Maaike says many families think students have more time now that they are at home doing remote learning, but the truth of the matter is that they are still dedicating the same amount of time to school. The pandemic has affected their daily structure and the quality of their learning. It has also taken a toll on many students’ mental health. Maaike surveyed her students and found that 67% of them are experiencing depression or anxiety, as a result of the pandemic. Now more than ever before, Maaike has acted as an anchor for many of her students. Maaike created a student wellness survey students can access at any time, and only she sees their responses. Through this method, students let her know if they need or if they are struggling with any issues, whether it be class work, home life, or mental health concerns. After reading over a message from a student, Maaike reaches out to him/her to set up a time to meet over the phone or by a Google meeting. ‘Many students have told me, “Ms. Thomas, I’m so lonely,”’ she says. “I’ve even had some students log in through video at lunchtime. We will eat our lunch together and talk about our day.” To reach out more, Maaike also joins the teachers’ Google classrooms while they are teaching. At times she does it to observe or so students can ask her any questions they may have. Other times she has presented to students on different subjects, for instance, on how to manage online learning. “I’ve done presentations on stress and anxiety management, as well as mindfulness exercises,” she explains. Maaike and the CECHS faculty have also created another method where the school staff reaching out to students assigned to them. They divided the entire school roster by last names. Then, those groups rotate amongst the faculty weekly. The staff member will call, email, or send a greeting card to their assigned students. The faculty does this to let students know they are there for them at any time and to check on how they are doing. Students aren’t the only ones being affected by remote learning school faculty are struggling in a very similar way. Maaike likes to remind herself, “We’re all in this together.” Everyone is in the same boat. The struggles may differ from person to person, but in actuality, the pandemic is affecting everyone. For school staff, it is an ever-changing process. Maaike says that once they get in a groove, there is a new requirement from the school district or the state. Then, the school faculty finds themselves making more adaptations. Even the school staff has been away from each other during this pandemic! The faculty usually has each other, but now a lot of faculty members can get lonely during work. To cope with these changes, Maaike says, “Every Wednesday, all the teachers log in to a video meeting and eat lunch together and talk. It doesn’t matter where each of us is we log in.” The school faculty in our community deserves encouragement. Just as Maaike, many faculty members have made new adjustments and are prioritizing their students during these difficult times. Even though the pandemic is a hardship, Maaike has made the best of it. During a post-pandemic period, she will implement the adjustments she made during the pandemic into their normal school schedule. “There has been a much better participation rate with parents and students with the online flexibility for next step plan meetings,” Maaike says. When the meetings were in person, parents couldn’t attend because of their job schedules. Students would also forget about their meetings. Now, parents can connect to an online meeting from anywhere they are. Those meetings are also recorded and can be given to students and parents to review on their own time. In the future, she plans to implement an online option for students and their parents to meet with her. As well as offer online counseling meetings for students. It is especially convenient with their juniors and seniors who they don’t see often (Pre-pandemic), since most of them are on college schedules and have internships to attend to. This pandemic has been especially hard on students and school faculty. Maaike’s experience speaks for a lot of school faculty who have made similar adjustments. During a time like this Maaike says we need to remember to -“Breathe. Nothing about this feels normal.” We just need to, “Learn to adapt the best we can, make adjustments when needed, and move forward as much as possible.” “As well as
remembering to demonstrate kindness and patience with everyone, including ourselves. Perfection is never expected, but showing care and consideration for one another is,” she concludes.