Caring Caretakers: Connections That Matter!

A few years ago now, I was teaching at a different school. One of my students,ย then in kindergarten, spoke Spanish. He was always really quiet in class, and tended to play alone. He spent most of his day, organizing cars in a line, pushing cars up and down in a row, and looking closely at different toy cars. Even if my teaching partner and I brought out new materials, or tried to interrupt his play with our presence and some different modelling, he tended to do the same thing again and again with the cars. I began to worry about this. Until one day, the child began to cry.ย Big heaving sobs.ย I tried to comfort him. My teaching partner tried to comfort him. We looked to see if he was hurt, sick, sad, or scared, but we couldn’t figure out what was bothering him. We had many students in our class who spoke different languages, but nobody else spoke Spanish. In fact, nobody else in the school spoke Spanish, except for one of our afternoon caretakers. We wondered if she could help.

It wasn’t quite time for this caretaker to start working, but she always came in early, so we went to get her. She happily came down to our classroom, and started to comfort this child. She sang with him, she spoke to him, she even read books in our classroom, translated into Spanish. This amazing woman was surrounded not just by this child, but by so many children in our class. They all wanted to listen to her, sit with her, and hug her. And this child changed. He was smiling, laughing, animated, and he even moved away from the cars. While he never spoke to the other students, he began to interact with them by passing them books and gently touching their arms and hands. He couldn’t stop talking when she was there with him, and he couldn’t stop smiling. She was incredibly happy too, and she offered to come and volunteer in our classroom. Every day, she arrived at the school over an hour early, and she spent this time with our kids. This child started to change. He eagerly anticipated her arrival, and again he spoke, laughed, and smiled with his classmates. I think that my heart exploded a bit more every time that she came in. Her presence on that first day changed my perception of a child, and it changed that child.

I share this story because since then, I’ve realized that connections in schools don’t just happen between children and educators (i.e., teachers, RECEs, and EAs). Administrators, secretaries, and caretakers are all important parts of a school community, and they can all make a difference for kids. Our kids this year love our afternoon caretaker. They also enjoy seeing our daytime caretaker, Lori, but they often don’t see her as much as they see Angelo in the afternoon. It’s usually when the afternoon rolls around that a drain gets clogged, a flood occurs, or something gets stuck in the toilet. ๐Ÿ™‚ A few of our students are always so excited to write a note to Mr. Angelo, and deliver it to his room, as they know that he will come right away.

I love that Angelo is starting to learn the names of some of our students. I hear him just before I leave each night, talking to one of our kids that often leaves the After Care Program around the time that he comes to clean our classroom. One day, when this child’s mother arrived, the little girl became really upset about something. She was in the coat room getting ready for home, but all you could hear were heaving sobs. I was just about to leave for home, when I overheard the conversation between the child, her mom, and Angelo. He was trying to vacuum the back coat room. He turned off the vacuum and said, “Oh no! My vacuum won’t work if you’re crying. Can you help my vacuum work again?!”ย Do you know what?ย She stopped crying right away, and he said, “Okay! Let’s see if the vacuum works.” Of course it turned right on, and he thanked the child profusely for fixing the vacuum with her happiness.ย Wow!ย Minutes later, I saw this child and her mom in the parking lot, and she was happily waving goodbye to me. Crisis averted, thanks to one awesome person: Angelo!

When Paula and I found out that Angelo’s birthday is today, we had to do something about this. We bought him a birthday treat, and mentioned the exciting news to Leah and Mya: two of our students who have really connected with him. They were thrilled to make him a card and deliver the present.

While he wasn’t in his room when they delivered the gift, he came by before home to thank the kids. I wish I photographed their faces when they saw him.ย They were so happy!ย Genuine joy. Genuine connections. From one of the most genuine of people.

At our last PA Day, we spoke about caring adults. These two caretakers are such great examples of these “caring adults.” For years, I never thought about extending student connections beyond the classroom, but they are so important. I’m glad that our kids have Angelo in their lives, and I hope that other students in the school do as well.ย How do you help facilitate relationships around the school? What’s the value in doing so?ย For some kids, it’s these kinds of positive connections that might make the biggest difference of all!


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