A Place Where Students' Voices Are Heard

Dr. Cissy Perez, who was interviewed for the article “Taking Action to Keep Students Safe” in the Spring 2019 issue of ATPE News, also spoke at SXSW EDU 2019. In her presentation, she emphasized that student safety is a shared responsibility.

“I think we adults have not kept up with this new generation of children who are growing up in a social media world,” says Perez, who is the assistant superintendent at West Oso ISD in Corpus Christi. “Kids are not learning enough coping skills to handle loss or imperfection.”

To help overcome this challenge, Perez ensures that homeroom time, called Bear-Time in honor of West Oso ISD’s mascot, is a place where students can share their voices and develop relationships with at least one teacher on campus. “This can truly make a difference,” says Perez. “It opens opportunities for teachers to detect warning signs from their students and to send the students to adults such as counselors to help them with any of life’s hardships.”

Perez shared an example of what Bear-Time can mean to students. Last January, after students returned to campus, they discussed the term “bittersweet.” A writing prompt during Bear-Time encouraged students to write a note to their teacher describing their holidays as “bitter” or “sweet.” In a heartbreaking note, one student described how his dad had left the family and was incarcerated, his grandmother didn’t want to talk to him, and his mom struggled as a single parent. Then the student wrote:

I’m glad I get to share, because I don’t really like talking about it to people. I’ll always be laughing, but deep down, I got pain that will never go away.

When asked what advice she could offer for teachers and administrators, Perez offered this:

“It is imperative that we know our students; no excuses. Bear-Time is an easy-to-implement way for principals and teachers to get to know their students. It’s impossible for school counselors to notice all of the early warning signs that their entire caseload of students may be exhibiting. For example, an average caseload of counselor-to-student ratio is 400 to 1. However, if every teacher on a campus can be assigned a small Bear-Time group of students, then that breaks down the 400 students into smaller groups who have at least one caring adult that they can turn to. This opens up the potential for warning signs to get detected much more swiftly and easily. The Bear-Time teacher can then send their student to a counselor for counseling support. It’s important for a principal to clearly explain the purpose of Bear-Time and lead the teachers through purposeful activities that they can use to help develop meaningful relationships with their students. Teamwork works!”

Well said, Dr. Perez. Well said.

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