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‘Miss Kendra’ offers support to students in troubled times

Children may face all sorts of situations that cause trauma or toxic stress in their lives, but it can be difficult for young kids to reach out for support. That’s why Hertford County Schools has implemented the “Miss Kendra” program in the district’s three elementary schools and have made sure it continues even while the students aren’t in the classroom now.

“Miss Kendra certainly gives them an opportunity in which they feel comfortable with expressing what’s going on with them personally,” explained Hertford County Superintendent Dr. William Wright. “It gives the children an opportunity to express some of the things that are getting in the way of education.”

According to Dr. Wright, Bearfield Primary became the first school in North Carolina to try out the program during the 2018-19 school year. After that success, the program has been implemented school-wide at Bearfield and Riverview Elementary and on a smaller basis at Ahoskie Elementary. But the program is slated to expand there as well next year.

“The results we have seen out of it have been phenomenal,” Wright said.

Miss Kendra Program Director Cat Davis agreed that the initial pilot program in Bearfield Primary was very successful with the few teachers who tried it out first.

“They began seeing less disruptive behaviors in their class, more compassion amongst classroom members. The overall culture of their classrooms was improving,” she explained. “We’re getting a lot of really great feedback from the teachers.”

Davis said the program grew out of an idea formed by therapists at a PTSD outpatient treatment center in New Haven, Connecticut. They were working with a lot of families with young children, and wanted to figure out how to try a more preventive approach to get kids more comfortable opening up about the struggles and worries they had to deal with.

“In order to access younger kids, we really needed to come up with something that’s creative, that’s imaginative, that’s based in storytelling, in order to make the content accessible because we’re talking about trauma and toxic stress,” David explained.

That’s where the idea of “Miss Kendra” was developed from. Though she’s fictional, her character faces adversity, learns to be resilient enough to overcome it, and then gives back to schools in order to help.

The program itself consists of a 30-minute lesson in the classroom weekly which starts the conversation with fun activities. After that, the students write a letter to Miss Kendra to voice their concerns, worries, or any other topic they want to discuss. The teacher or a community volunteer then responds to each letter in Miss Kendra’s voice.

Davis likened it to having a supportive penpal.

But now that schools have transitioned to remote learning because of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, program participants have had to make adjustments.

“Before the schools closed, kids were already writing to Miss Kendra about it (the virus),” Davis explained.

She said they’ve been working to create new lessons and videos for the teachers to distribute to students that deal specifically with concerns about the virus. Now that the kids are home, Davis said parents can also help play an active role in having those difficult conversations.

“The kids are leading the charge for families where things may be more shut down. It’s very empowering for a lot of kids,” she continued.

The principals for all three Hertford County elementary schools said they’re making sure teachers are able to get the materials to students through a number of remote methods so that the positive program can continue.

“I believe the Miss Kendra program is helping our students develop socially and emotionally. When students’ needs are being address, it directly impacts their achievements,” said Riverview Elementary Principal Lee Ford. “Our teachers are sharing Miss Kendra’s lessons with our students in the google classroom.”

At Ahoskie Elementary, Principal Elenia Riddick also reported the program will continue for participating classes. Along with the new videos, “they were also able to view a letter from ‘Miss Kendra’ to let them know she is still thinking about them and that she hopes they are doing well.”

Riddick added that all the staff of the school is also thinking about the students and hoping they’re doing well, a reminder that the students don’t just receive fictional support but real-life support too.

Julie Shields, Bearfield Primary Principal, said they’ll be receiving new videos throughout the rest of the year about how the virus has impacted the lives of students.

“The Miss Kendra program helps our students to gain an understanding of how to deal with difficult situations such as being at home and not at school because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Shields said. “With the program, we are able to help the students tell their stories by providing a supportive, nurturing, and loving environment.”

Dr. Wright said he was looking forward to seeing the long-term effects of the program as it continues, and he’s glad they’re able to get a better understanding of children’s social and emotional needs.

“We need to create avenues for them to express what’s getting in the way of a conducive learning environment. The more we know, the better we can serve children,” he noted.

“Tackling trauma and toxic stress is not an easy thing to do,” said Davis, but she praised the work going on in Hertford County’s elementary schools.