In the Burroughs | Children's Minnesota | The Kid Experts

What our students need this school year

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, but students are no longer in the square, schooling and socializing through their video screens. They’ll be reconnecting facetoface again this fall. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be like it was before the pandemic.  

What are our young people facing as they start this new school year? And how can the grownups in their lives help them?  

I asked two kid experts in the field of education to share their thoughts with us. 

Cherise Ayers, principal of Central High School in St. Paul and Mauri Friestleben, principal of North Community High School in Minneapolis.

Left: Cherise Ayers, principal of Central High School in St. Paul.|
Right: Mauri Friestleben, principal of North Community High School in Minneapolis.

How are young people doing?

Mauri Friestleben: They are surviving but they are not thriving. 

What challenges are Black, Latino, Asian and Indigenous students facing? 

Mauri Friestleben: Children of color are hurting. They are displaying anxiety and depression as a collective whole. They are keenly aware of the sense that, in our city, they are not proactively protected by law enforcement, but are reactively killed after the dams break. They are keenly aware that whiter children across the metro area went back to school much quicker than they did and, in their minds, appeared to live their best lives.  

It is imperative that we, as the adults surrounding them, steady ourselves to provide strong, firm, structured environments that are regulating and reassuring. 

Cherise Ayers: Children of color have always faced challenges in all of our nation’s systems, and COVID has exacerbated those challenges. I think a more appropriate question is how do we, the educators, plan to change our systems so that we are addressing the challenges that children of color are facing. In order to do that we have to sincerely interrogate our disproportionate outcomes and our own biases to ensure that while in our care, our students are getting what they need to thrive in the rest of the world. 

Returning to school with equity in mind 

Cherise Ayers: Reconnecting through an equity lens means that we are reaching out to students asking them what they need, listening to them in a way that is genuine and transparent and then acting on some of those needs. It means providing students with a forum to be heard and cultivating trusting relationships with them. It means embracing the idea of radical belonging. Our spaces are made better when our students are there. We must always honor that. 

Mauri Friestleben: Starting another school year with equity in mind, to me, means that every incoming and returning Polar has equal and equitable access to the best possible school experience. Meaning it is my responsibility to create conditions through personal and physical space that are warm, welcoming and differentiated. It means that I must be sensitive to all student types, backgrounds and styles – and I must begin by doing the same with the staff; both to model how it’s done and to ensure they know how honoring it feels. 

What are some words of wisdom for young people? 

Mauri Friestleben: They are more than enough. They are seen. They are perfectly imperfect and imperfectly perfect. They are not only survivors, they are overcomers. 

Cherise Ayers: Be kind to yourself and others. Be patient with yourself and others. Keep an open mind. Learn a lot. 

Any other thoughts you’d like to share? 

Cherise Ayers: We shouldn’t be in such a hurry “to get back to normal.” Normal did not work for a lot of people. We need to continue to use this challenging time to innovate. 

Thanks to Principal Ayers and Principal Friestleben for sharing their thoughts with us.

Students want a place to learn, feel valued, be respected and experience a loving and caring environment. These two school leaders and others are working to establish a new normal for our children that is equitable and inclusive and brings out the best in them by giving each student what they need to achieve success. 

We thank you educators, parents, families and community for investing in our children and helping them to be their best.  

Have an amazing 2022-2023 school year.   

James Burroughs

James Burroughs
Senior vice president, government and community relations, chief equity and inclusion officer

James Burroughs is the senior vice president, government and community relations, chief equity and inclusion officer at Children's Minnesota. He is responsible for advancing equity and inclusion in all parts of the organization.
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