A little grace goes a long way for GMS students

May be it’s an extra fist-bump in the hallway. Maybe it’s a little side hug. On the surface, it’s not a big deal, but behind-the-scenes it’s an extra effort by Gladewater Middle School faculty to show students a little extra grace and empathy when it helps.
It’s called ‘Handle with Care’ at GMS, one of two programs Gladewater ISD trustees explored Monday evening with Principal Becky Lanham and Counselor Kacy Rodgers.
“It doesn’t cost us a thing, it doesn’t take any time, it’s just a little extra grace,” Lanham said, taking quiet cues from parents to help their student get through a hard day a little easier. “Then we just move on.”
Importantly, Rodgers said, it’s not an original idea to GISD, but while she doesn’t remember where she heard of it, the basic concept stuck with her:
“If your child is having a bad day or there’s something going on in your family, let us know and we’ll send an email to their teacher,” whether it’s a struggle with the death of a loved one or something simpler, like a morning argument over missing shoes. “Most of them are short things, some are a little bit long-term. Sometimes we get no information at all except for a child’s name. (Teachers) give them a little extra grace, a little extra comfort during that time.”
Basic coordination among staffers ensures the student isn’t being constantly asked ‘What’s wrong?’ or if they’re OK, Rodgers added, which helps avoid re-triggering the emotions they’re dealing with.
“That way, the kid doesn’t have to explain it eight different times, and the teachers are aware of it.”
Most of the time, students are unaware they’re getting a little more slack, Lanham said, a little more tenderness.
“The parent may stop in the parking lot and say, ‘We’re having a hard time today.’ We’ll make sure we lay eyes on that child at least once or twice throughout the day.”
Likewise, the campus Care Closet is an extension of partnering with Gladewater Methodist Church and East Texas Food Bank for a backpack nutrition program.
A robust inventory of snacks, clothes, hygiene products and more mitigates minor emergencies and ensures students have a little assistance when it’s needed.
“It’s really cool that the kids can come and get whatever they need during the day, during the week,” Lanham said, in addition to their Friday afternoon backpack meals: “They don’t have to feel self-conscious about that.”
It’s also helpful when there’s a lunchtime spill, Rodgers added, a ready change of clothes so kids don’t have to endure a stain through the rest of their day.
The community has rallied behind the idea, Lanham said. Packages arrive regularly, generously adding to the various necessities in the campus stores.
“We got cases of body wash and antiperspirant,” she added. “It’s awesome, the stuff that’s coming in. Folks will supplement the backpack meals with granola bars, peanut butter crackers, things that are super-quick that kids can pick up.
“Whatever we get, we just kind of dispense it, and the kids go in there and shop.”
Clothing donations come in all the time.
“If someone has a dress code violation, we’re not taking a lot of time calling home, sitting in ISS. Go in that closet and find something and keep rolling,” Lanham said. “Find something, put it on and get back to class. That’s the goal here.”
The GMS programs are reflective of what’s going on throughout Gladewater ISD’s campuses, according to Dr. Sedric Clark, GISD superintendent.
“Before we can really teach the subject matter, our kids’ basic needs have to be met,” Clark said. “Whether that’s food at school or just knowing that people care for them and want them to be taken care of, those needs have to be met.
“The adage says, the kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care. That’s applicable.”
Personnel have recently received additional training on working with students who live at the poverty level.
“We’re 77 percent economically-disadvantaged,” Clark noted. “Our training reiterated that education is a way up and out for these kids, but we have to meet basic needs first.”

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