Sunday, 19 May 2024

Salato: Achievement requires focus

Konocti Unified School District Superintendent Becky Salato. Courtesy photo.

LOWER LAKE, Calif. — In many ways, the beginning of this school year looks like the beginning of every other one.

Teachers are presenting creative lessons in newly decorated classrooms, students are reconnecting with classmates and establishing new friends, clubs are forming, sports teams are looking for new recruits, and we’re all watching the weather in hopes of avoiding another wildfire.

For me, however, this year is a little different, not because of what’s going on here at the district, but because of what’s going on personally.

I’m supporting multiple family members with serious medical issues. On the outside, I look the same (maybe a few extra bags under my eyes); but on the inside, I am feeling emotionally fragile and constantly frustrated that I cannot be in two places at once. I want to be in New York with my ailing mom, and I want to be in my office supporting our wonderful staff as they kick off the school year.

Although the details of my situation are unique, my emotions and the way they distract me are not.

Many of our students and employees face challenges and distractions of their own. Health challenges are one of countless examples people face. When distractions are minor or short-term, we can often manage without much difficulty. But when they are significant or chronic, it’s almost impossible to focus on daily life and do our best work.

On any given day, children in our community struggle in ways we often know nothing about. They face food insecurity and their hunger makes it hard to concentrate. They witness or experience violence or are exposed to confusing and upsetting ideas. They worry about their immediate safety and security because their parents are incarcerated or struggling with drugs.

Can you blame them for showing a lack of discipline and focus in school?

As a school district, Konocti Unified is dedicated to delivering the academic preparation our students need to pursue the college or career path of their choice. When students are struggling with challenges outside of school, it’s much harder to achieve this goal.

This is why you constantly hear me talking about social and emotional wellness. I know that for students to achieve at their highest potential, they need to be able to focus on their studies.

When a student isn’t performing well academically or is behaving in an unacceptable manner, our response must encompass both academic and psychological elements: Does the student need more academic support or is there something else going on? One of the most important things we can do in our schools is to support students so they can learn to manage themselves and their situations.

We know that when students have one trusted adult in their lives it can make a huge difference. At school, that can be a teacher, counselor, administrator, coach, librarian, secretary, janitor, playground supervisor or any number of others. We have social-emotional counselors at every school.

One way to help your student succeed is to start each day in a calm and positive way. Small changes to routines can make a big difference, like having kids lay out the next day’s outfit the night before and/or waking up 15 minutes earlier.

When you, as a parent, feel frustrated, you can reduce morning stress for yourself and everyone else by taking a deep breath and using a tone of voice that doesn’t involve yelling. As parents, our emotional state can’t help but affect our kids.

Before dropping off your child for school, you might consider asking them what they are most looking forward to that day — who they want to see, what they want to do. This helps them focus on the positive.

When your child comes home from school, you might ask them what good things that happened today and who helped make it possible.

Gratitude is a powerful force. Let’s work together to provide our students with the support they need to focus so they can thrive.

Becky Salato is superintendent for the Konocti Unified School District.

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