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FILE PHOTO — Brian Wharton, superintendent of Yelm Community Schools, reads the book "Should I Share My Ice Cream?" by Mo Willems to fifth graders on Friday, Feb. 28, at Southworth Elementary School, just weeks before the closure of schools due to COVID-19. 

One of the truly great things about Yelm is the continuing promise that our community and staff will do anything to help students and families. 

I believe it every time I hear it. It is sincere and followed up by actions. There are times, however, that doing anything for students and families is really a hard challenge. Right now, we are all dealing with COVID-19, school closures and uncertainty about what next fall will bring. We now add the national struggle over the death of George Floyd, marches against racism and the anger resulting from some using those marches to be destructive and violent. 

That is a lot to process.

With schools closed we can feel socially disconnected from our students. Zoom meetings, electronic lessons and phone calls work, but I know our teachers and staff truly want to support students face to face to make sure they know we are here for them. 

One of the many things our classrooms offer is a safe place for students to speak their own truth. This is not easy. We are all very different. In speaking our own truth, it is important that we listen to understand rather than to respond. 

Too often we are put in a position to immediately like or dislike. Right now, understanding is far more important than response. Right now, all students need understanding so that they can process difficult times in healthy ways. 

A significant piece of our classrooms and the learning experience is skill development in discourse. 

At all grade levels, students learn how to discuss, support with evidence, disagree and rephrase. Saying something the wrong way is a learning opportunity and not something to be attacked. Discourse also teaches us how to show differences of opinion through kindness and empathy. 

These are strong environments for dialogue and learning about racism, democracy, growth and community. 

Even with the physical closure of schools, we are still reaching out to connect with all students each day. We continue to reach out to all students to support their education and social-emotional well-being. 

Even in difficult times, we can continue to learn and grow together. 

•••

Brian Wharton is the superintendent of Yelm Community Schools. 

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