iLEAD Agua Dulce Learners Share How They Feel Underneath the Masks

By Michael Niehoff
Education Content Coordinator, iLEAD Schools

Masks have now been part of our lives for almost one year. They have become synonymous with COVID-19 and the reality of living with a global pandemic. As iLEAD Agua Dulce recently welcomed learners back to campus for the first time in almost one year, 1st and 2nd grade facilitator Sue-Ellen Quan decided to capture the feelings of these learners behind the masks.

After reflecting on how we normally depend on facial cues from our learners, as well as realizing how nervous and excited her learners would be, Quan decided to do what all good project-based learning facilitators do. She asked the learners.

“I told my learners that often we use each other’s facial expressions to understand each other,” Quan said. “However, we can also use writing and art as other ways to express this.”

Quan said that she challenged her learners with this driving question: “How do you feel underneath the mask?” She said she asked learners to first write about it and then draw an accompanying picture. Quan said that she let the learners know they could draw themselves as they wanted to and as they were feeling. She said her only instructions were that they couldn’t talk about it until they were all finished. After she read through the responses and examined the artwork, she chose various social-emotional learning texts to use as read-alouds with the class to build discussion.

“Most of the learners said they were excited. Some were both excited and nervous, and some were just nervous,” Quan said. “We talked about this. I told them I was excited and nervous and that these are natural human emotions.”

Although not a parent herself, Quan said she was also inspired by thinking about what the learners’ parents and families might be going through emotionally on the first day back on campus. Knowing that families could not accompany their kids to class or capture all those moments themselves, Quan said she felt she could play a role in supporting the parents and families. She took pictures of all the learners with their work and then shared them with the families.

“I wanted the families to feel a connection to our learning that day,” Quan said. “Some of my learners even recorded messages to their families. They said it was to make themselves feel better and some said it was to make their parents would feel better.”

Here are some of the messages that Quan captured from the learners about how they felt underneath their masks on the first day back on campus:

iLEAD Agua Dulce learners distanced photo

“Underneath my mask…”

  • “I am happy!”
  • “I am nervous!”
  • “I am funny!”

Additionally, Quan had the learners take a socially-distanced class picture using their “bird wings.”

Quan, like her learners, is both excited and sometimes nervous about returning to school. But in the end, she’s very proud of how authentic and resilient her learners continue to be.

“Going back into the classroom might look a little bit different. Our learners might not appear the same underneath those masks,” Quan said. “However, what’s most important is to remember that just like before wearing masks, our learners have feelings. As educators, we need to listen to those feelings using our eyes, ears and hearts.”

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