Monday, September 28, 2020

Della Davidson Teacher Encourages a Focus on Mental Health Amid Pandemic

By Hannah Grace Newbold
Journalism Student
hgnewbol@go.olemiss.edu

It was 7:40 a.m. and the hallways at Della Davidson Elementary in Oxford were empty.

There was no hustle and bustle of a typical Monday morning. The parking lot was empty, with only vacant buses nearby.

The Oxford School District had just moved all its classes online due to concerns over COVID-19. Every elementary student had, luckily, been equipped with a laptop or iPad to complete their work from home until further notice.

“The kids learned better in school than they do now,” said Word. “I’m getting a lot of half-effort assignments. At school, I was able to encourage them to give their best effort.” Photo by Hannah Grace Newbold.

Joanna Word, a third-grade math and science teacher, sat at her home alone. Every bit of her new daily life looked drastically different than it had a week before.

“I went from working over 8-9 hours a day to working a few hours,” Word said. “Going from all those hours of work to staying at home and not being able to see my kids, with my kids questioning when we’re going to get to go back to school has been a huge adjustment.”

Word says she’s trying to reach out to people more while the world continues to go through a challenging time.

“We need to be there for each other,” said Word.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, she was at Della Davidson from 6:30 a.m. to 5 or 5:30 p.m. in the evening on weekdays. Saturday and Sunday were spent preparing for her class’ lessons for the next week.

But now, Word is not doing as much work on the weekends. Life looks incredibly different now than it had during the previous weeks.

“The kids learned better in school than they do now,” said Word. “I’m getting a lot of half-effort assignments. At school, I was able to encourage them to give their best effort.”

Not being able to be with her students and work one-on-one in-person (like she would in class) has been a huge change for Word. 

“Every student is going to be behind, whether they’re the highest kid or the lowest kid,” Word said.

“They’re not going to be on track doing online learning like they would be in-school class. The only positive is that every school district is going to be in the same boat next year. They’ve basically missed half a semester of work and state testing. I see a lot of remediation needing to happen in the fall semester.”

However, moving to online curriculum was not difficult for the Oxford School District. The district had enough laptops and iPads for all its students, aided by the school district’s “One-to-One Digital Learning Initiative” that launched in 2014.

“Not every school district is that lucky. I know most school districts are having to send home packets of paper and are just hoping for the best,” Word said.

Life feels very different for Word, she said – far different than it had a month prior. Having been in Oxford teaching, her parents asked her this week to return home to Magee, Mississippi so that she can maintain some form of human contact and she wouldn’t be by herself.

“I’ve heard of a lot of people struggling with depression, anxiety and loneliness from all the uncertainty,” Word said. “I would say that I’m struggling with a lot of those things too. [I’m] going from being the caretaker, every weekday and even weekends sometimes, to having no one to take care and not having as much work to do.”

Word worries about her students being OK. Many teachers share a similar concern for their students’ well-being during this worldwide crisis.

“A lot of my kids, I know they go home and they’re okay,” Word said. “But some of the kids, I haven’t heard from or the people that take care of them. The people that take care of them aren’t answering their phones. Life took a 360.”

“Half the people are becoming more vulnerable and encouraging to other people. Whereas the other half of people are getting really upset, depressed, and stir-crazy. They’re not dealing with their emotions very well. I’m hoping that they’re able to turn to somebody if they’re struggling with that. Everybody is struggling with something in some-way emotionally.”

Word has taken time to pursue her hobbies while the world’s on pause. She’s played music, painted and read more during this time. She’s spent time in her Bible and going for walks. Even still, she looks forward to being around people again.

“I’m going to be around people again,” Word said. “I need human contact. I’ve realized more and more how important that is. We need relationships.”