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Diversity and Student Resilience Program gives teacher tools to understand students

head and shoulders

Every afternoon during dismissal at the middle school where Skyler Thompson teaches in Baltimore County, there’s one student who always stands right by her side. Together, they chat while they tick off each bus. Each day, Skyler gets to know her a little more.

She’s a young girl who experienced trauma at her previous school. Some days are fine. Others are terrible. She has triggers, things that set her off and remind her of her past trauma. Skyler desperately wants to help, but she doesn’t know-how. She hasn’t experienced the world like her student has.

It’s that yearning to help and understand her students that led Skyler to study in the Diversity and Student Resilience graduate program at York College of Pennsylvania.

Love of learning

Ever since she was a child, Skyler knew she wanted to become a teacher. She loves to learn and help others learn. “I think teaching is what I’m meant to do,” she says.

Skyler is in her third year of teaching in Baltimore County. One thing she’s learned in those years is just how much a student’s outside world can affect their behavior and ability to learn in the classroom. “There’s so much trauma in kids now,” she says.

Skyler wants to understand. She wants to help. So, when she saw York College offering a new program that focused on understanding those things, she jumped on it. “I just thought that it would be really helpful for me to be more educated to teach them better,” she says.

Growing together

York College was already on Skyler’s radar. She’d completed her undergrad there in 2017 and loved the experience. “I’m just so glad that I get the chance to come back to a place that I love so much,” she says.

Being a student in the first class of this new program means she, her fellow students, and the teachers are all learning together. Her professors—some retired superintendents and assistant principals—are working with the students on the best ways to learn material. “They’re there for you to succeed,” she says.

She and her classmates share tips and ideas with each other. It’s in a teacher’s nature, she says. “We’re kind of hardwired to share things that we find,” she says.

Understanding her students

Skyler’s classes so far have explored topics like equity in the classroom, supporting students’ social and emotional needs, and mental health literacy for educators. They’ve helped her to better understand her students’ behavior. A student acting out or acting inappropriately is often a result of something that has happened outside of the classroom. Now, she’s developing skills to better help those students.

Her goal, at the end of her studies, is to be more conscious of how she responds to her students, to not pass judgment, and to be more open-minded to her students and learn how to better help them.

At the end of the day, Skyler just wants to be the best she can be for all her students, she says. “I just couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

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