Each semester, AmeriCorps’ Project MARS collects “Great Stories” from its members in which they reflect on their experiences mentoring in the classroom and the progress they see students making. This month’s story comes from Caroline Sprinkle.
In the third grade class I serve in, we have one student in particular who struggles with almost every activity to school. This student has experienced a significant amount of trauma, and it has affected him deeply. He struggles to complete his work and has multiple breakdowns throughout the day that require deescalation from me or the teacher. A few weeks into school, we began encouraging breaks between work. The break could be a walk with an adult or playing with shapes in a separate space.
The teacher and I continue to encourage him to take his own breaks. For a while, the breaks didn’t seem to help him. He continued to have breakdowns quite often. Lately, instead of waiting for him to be in crisis mode, I have been taking frequent breaks with him to throw a squishy ball in the hall for three minutes. Then, he has to get back to work.
Once I started doing that, the breakdowns started to lessen. He’s an athletic kid so throwing the ball is something he really enjoys. He will even calmly ask to go on a walk with me when he knows he needs a break. He is more able to work efficiently after we have taken the breaks. He gets anxious about doing work, so I like helping him take that needed break. Before, he would stress himself out so much that he couldn’t get any work done and by the time a break was needed, he was already too stressed out for a break to help. Ensuring he has those minutes without work is necessary and pretty fun now that we throw the ball. Walking with him even allows me to get to know him better.
I sometimes will go observe the speech pathologist or help assist another class with math small groups, and every time I leave he is a bit disappointed. I remind him that we will be able to take breaks after I’m back – and his face lights up. I haven’t seen this many smiles on his face all year. Throwing the ball or taking a walk always seem to brighten up his day.