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Teachers Help Students Cope With Uneasy Election

Aaron Schrank


Emotions are running high following the 2016 presidential election. Educators in Jackson are helping their large number of Mexican students cope with emotions they may be encountering at home.

“We have to determine what's important. Was my wig, really important?” asks teacher Thomas Ralston.

“No!” respond his third-grade class.

“So do I think if I used my earth and space book, every single thing in my earth and space book should go in my report?” he asks.

“No!” respond the students.

Thomas Ralston is teaching third-graders at Jackson's Colter Elementary. He teaches in the dual-language-immersion program where half the children speak Spanish at home and the other half English. The students alternate learning in both languages. He says that when children start talking politics, they're mirroring their parents.

“There was a lot of uneasiness, I think just a basic reflection of what you see around the country. Not necessarily because of who won or who lost but when you have a large minority group making up half of your classroom in an election like this there was obviously a lot of fear, a lot of worst case scenario and end-of-the-world type feelings,” he says.

The fear was that some of them may be forced to leave, due to Donald Trump’s tough talk on immigration.  Colter Elementary serves almost 600 students and almost 37 percent of those students are Latino. Principal Bo Miller says that immediately after the election, some did break down, worried about what changes in immigration policy might mean for their families. 

“One example, is a child told their third-grade teacher that they wouldn't be back after the weekend and the teacher said, 'Well, where are you going to go?' And the child said, 'Well I'm sure we have to move back to Mexico.' Speaking with this child-like innocence. Of course, the family was back on Monday and we haven't seen a drop in enrollment,” Miller says.

Teacher Thomas Ralston says he's been dealing with his students' concerns by trying to teach them how government works. 

“We gave a really off-the-wall example like the president wants to change all lunches to chocolate chip cookies every day. The president doesn't have the power to go in and do that. We talked about the three branches of government and how the checks and balances work, things like that,” he says.

Ralston says coping with political uncertainty isn't unique to Jackson.

“I think you see the same uneasiness here that you would probably see in places like Gillete with natural gas and coal. You know, when it looked like it was going to be a predominantly Democratic election and those things were going to be shut down, I think there was a lot of those conversations that had to do with home finance,  and am I going to have a job and is now the time to get out of here just like you're having here because the election went the other way,” he says.

And he says kids are modeling how their parents cope with those uncertainties. He suggests that parents watch what they say around their children. 

“Just be a positive role model and be supportive of your kids. And if your kids ask questions talk to them about it just like anything else,” he says.

School counselor Charlotte Diprisco agrees.

“Kids talk to each other. I think that was kind of what was happening to is that they would say, 'Well, my parents said this.' And then another kid would say, 'I didn't know that, now I'm really worried,'” she says.

Diprisco says she talks through those concerns with children when parents or teachers ask her to help so kids can calm their fears and get back to learning. Overall, Principal Bo Miller says things have calmed down and he doesn't see visible signs of stress among  students. More than anything, he says, he's witnessed an outpouring of support.

“I think many people have heard about incidents in K-12 schools across the nation where there's some bullying, harassment towards minorities. Let's say Muslim populations. We're decidedly not seeing that. We're seeing support among our Anglo families for our Latinos. A concern by them for our community,” Miller says.

A multi-media journalist, Rebecca Huntington is a regular contributor to Wyoming Public Radio. She has reported on a variety of topics ranging from the National Parks, wildlife, environment, health care, education and business. She recently co-wrote the one-hour, high-definition documentary, The Stagecoach Bar: An American Crossroads, which premiered in 2012. She also works at another hub for community interactions, the Teton County Library where she is a Communications and Digital Media Specialist. She reported for daily and weekly newspapers in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Wyoming for more than a decade before becoming a multi-media journalist. She completed a Ted Scripps Fellowship in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado in 2002. She has written and produced video news stories for the PBS series This American Land (thisamericanland.org) and for Assignment Earth, broadcast on Yahoo! News and NBC affiliates. In 2009, she traveled to Guatemala to produce a series of videos on sustainable agriculture, tourism and forestry and to Peru to report on the impacts of extractive industries on local communities.
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