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Teaching Through a Pandemic

One pandemic later and we are living in a world of virtual learning and 18 months later we are slowly beginning to integrate back to some semblance of normalcy. We wanted to take a moment to interview Haven Hills’ teacher to share her thoughts about the education program at Haven Hills and how the pandemic has affected her program. 

  • Interviewer: Tell me about Haven Hills’ Children’s programs and on-site shelter school? 

I am extremely proud of the educational program my team and I have developed throughout my 10 years at Haven Hills. We have always maintained a child-centered curriculum, combined with rigorous attention to state standards; taught in a creative and engaging way. As a teacher who has previously taught in classrooms containing 30+ students, I feel blessed to have the luxury of an environment where I can focus on individual needs and strengths so vital to a child’s growth and self-esteem. Both the kids and I have thrived in this atmosphere. When I hear a 15-year-old boy tell me that mine was the first class where he ever read an entire book, or when a 10-year-old girl, told for years she was “stupid” at math, lights up at mastering division; it is no mystery why I have stayed here 10 years.  

We focus on English/Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies every day.  Art, music, and dance are also a big part of my classroom.  Over the years, I have collected a terrific assortment of lesson plans for all grades and interests.  Some, I have written, some I have borrowed, and on some I have collaborated.  The remarkable thing about educators is that they love to share their successful lessons with each other! The structure of the classroom is divided by age and grade.  We serve kids kindergarten through high school.  I design an instructional program for each of the kids based on my initial assessments, state standards, and the children’s own strengths and interests.  I only have them for a maximum of 45 days (about 1 and a half months), but it is wonderful to see what some TLC can do. 

  • Interviewer: How is their learning structured during the pandemic? 

 Throughout the last year, the Haven Hills team and I have challenged ourselves to maintain the education of our client’s children in any way possible. We have distributed thrice weekly lessons, worksheets, and curricula, offered Zoom classes, and purchased hands on science and art kits for the kids to enjoy. I have heard from many parents throughout the year that the children enjoy the educational packets and that the parents also enjoy doing them with their kids! So, as an unexpected bonus, parents and children have strengthened their bond! Yay! That said, though, I cannot WAIT to get back into the classroom, whenever that may be. I miss the interaction and the joy I get from my students. 

  • Interviewer: Do you work with partner organizations? 

Most other DV (DOMESTIC VIOLENCE) shelters do not have onsite schools, which is a shame, because it is unsafe for the children to return to their old school (because of the abuser).  There have been many cases of the abusive partner kidnapping the children from their school and/or using them as leverage against the DV survivor.  So, back in the 70’s, when Haven Hills began, the women who founded it wisely wanted the children to continue their studies. They also knew the routine of school would provide comfort and structure to traumatized kids.  They also intuitively knew that happy kids help heal the DV survivors.  So, they designed a one-room schoolhouse for the survivor’s children onsite where the kids could thrive and get a lot of individual attention they have been needing for years.  Other DV shelters are beginning to catch on to how necessary a school is for the health of their clients and have installed them or in the process of developing them. Another serendipitous event occurred during this last challenging year. A sister shelter contacted me to pick my brain on developing their own classroom onsite! I happily babbled on for an hour to their administrator and it truly reminded me how much I love teaching at Haven Hills. He told me he is going to incorporate many of my suggestions. This success is a shared one:  I could not do the positive things for the kids I do without the support and encouragement of the Haven Hills team. 

  • Interviewer: Do you have any advice for parents out there who may be struggling with school? 

Advice for parents struggling with school is first…realize we are all struggling so do not be tough on yourself.  Also, do not be ashamed or embarrassed to reach out for support from other parents or teachers, online or by phone.  There are terrific free resources available:  the Los Angeles Unified School District, the PTA, even the public library! There are parent support groups that are open and encouraging to all — all you need to do is ask. 

  • Interviewer: Do you have a favorite teaching moment? 

My favorite teaching moment is when school is over and the kids do not want to leave! Yes, that does sometimes happen.  That is truly a great moment. 

Next: 40 Hour Domestic Violence Training

Recent posts

  • Keep Breathing

    Usually, when you experience any form of abuse from a partner — whether that be physical, psychological, financial, or sexual abuse, people will encourage you to disconnect from your abuser. This can include stopping all communication, and seeking police support if appropriate.

    However, with children, the process of separation is more complex and often means you need to remain in contact with the other party, despite harm that happened within the relationship. Having a child with an abuser is an unbreakable bond that you will share for the rest of your life.

    It can be hard to have your own identity when you are struggling and trying to provide a safe place for yourself and your children. Like our survivor Megan who shared her struggle:

    I take deep breaths. I have felt suffocated for years. Tried to catch my breath by leaving “him”. But I couldn’t breathe as they put the handcuffs on me for “abusing him” when I had been the one abused. I couldn’t breathe when they handed me the restraining order to not come within 100 yards of my kids because I was a “danger” to them. I couldn’t breathe in every court hearing being told I was a bad parent. I couldn’t breathe as I slept in the truck. I was able to take small breaths when I was able to fight the negatives and get them back. I could take deep breaths as I finally had them in my arms after two months of nothing. My breath was taken again when they pulled my three month old from my arms because of both of “them”. I couldn’t breathe when I sat in that room for 1 hour as not one but TWO social workers watched my every move as I “visited” my kids. I couldn’t breathe when the ER doctor told me I was pregnant. Short breaths and reflect and the choices I am making. Deep breaths as I secured my income and escaped the abuse, finding us a safe home. Full breaths when I was finally told I could have my kids back after a year and a half. Slow breathing as “he” disappeared for months leaving me to do it all, feeding them, loving them through their own pains and confusion. And again, small breathes as he returns and threatens to take them again because I decided to fight for “him” to pitch in for their survival. Preparing myself to deal with the ups and downs of co-parenting with an abuser. Life can be breathtaking in both ways. But the point is to Keep Breathing. I will continue to have my kids be my oxygen.♥

    Client’s name withheld

    Don’t forget to nurture your own identity and life. It may be difficult, it is important to build a broader identity outside parenthood and your relationship, to ensure you have a range of identities to draw solace from.

    Work, friendships, hobbies, and other relationships can be sources of support and meaning and give you something to feel positive about at times when the co-parenting relationship feels particularly fraught.

    For information on how to deal with the effects of trauma or to get help, please visit our website at havenhills.org.

  • Grit

    One of the many barriers that survivors face when trying to leave an abusive relationship is a lack of education or job readiness. Often, this inability to support themselves keeps survivors in abusive relationships.

    Knowing this, in 2020 Haven Hills partnered with the American Aerospace Technical Academy to create a multi-sector blueprint to highlight meaningful workforce pathways combined with trauma-informed practices for survivors of domestic violence. We focused on a multi-sector approach to create pathways out of poverty, dependence, and violence through training in non-destructive testing, GED attainment, job placement, and wrap-around support services such as case management, life skills, and support groups to help manage work stress for survivors. Our hope was to help participants build stability through increased workforce readiness, skill acquisition and confidence building.

    It is never easy to take on a new career or to consider a new career at any age and it was especially important that we prepare participants for the added workload and scheduling management required to accommodate virtual classes from 5pm to 10pm, Monday through Friday during the 16-week program.

    We are honored to report that six survivors successfully completed the first Workforce Development Program class! We are challenged to find the perfect word that encompasses the six graduates and their sheer determination to complete this program. The only word that comes to mind is “Grit”. This word is defined by the perseverance, resiliency, and the hard work to reach a goal over a long period of time and each of these survivors have all truly encompassed what it means to be “gritty”.

    The challenges these survivors had were many, and they met them with determination and the hope of building a better life for themselves and their children. They had to learn new material virtually through a pandemic, which certainly had its own set of challenges. They had to re-learn how to be in school. They balanced being a single mother, working to provide for their family, while healing from their trauma. And yet, despite all of that, they succeeded. It was inspiring and an honor to witness their growth throughout this program.

    All of us at Haven Hills believe this project has the potential to change systems and conditions for domestic violence survivors that traditional workforce strategies do not provide.  We look forward to implementing the best practices learned through this pilot and cultivate relationships with additional training programs to provide more opportunities for survivors in our care.  We also hope to better understand both the participants’ individual capacity for success within this context and our ability to provide the wrap-around services and follow-up required for long-term and sustained participant success.

  • We strive to support the unique needs of ALL survivors we serve

    Lisa came to our Shelter from South Central Los Angeles. She had just moved with her batterer from Arizona and knew no one in California. And, as is common in domestic violence relationships, her abuser had isolated her from everyone and everything that she had been familiar with.

    Lisa resisted calling a shelter because she felt that as a lesbian she wouldn’t be accepted into any program. In fact, there is a common concern among our LGBTQ+ survivors, that they will not be accepted into a shelter or receive the services offered because domestic violence shelters only accept straight women and their children.

    Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, at Haven Hills we take great pride in serving ALL survivors of domestic violence regardless of national origin, ethnicity, gender-identity, sexual orientation, age, language, religion, income level, or abilities. 

    Domestic violence is not limited to heterosexual relationships and can affect individuals of all sexual orientations and genders. Within the LGBTQ+ community, intimate partner violence occurs at a rate equal to or even higher than that of the heterosexual community. LGBTQ+ individuals may experience unique forms of intimate partner violence as well as distinctive barriers to seeking help due to fear of discrimination or bias.

    Luckily Lisa made a call to our hotline and found a helpful advocate ready to provide support – a safe place to stay, case management, individual and group counseling, and a community ready to help her rebuild her life. 

    Lisa participated in all our shelter programs. We helped her file a restraining order and worked with her to connect with a transitional housing program. Today, Lisa is working as an executive with a major corporation and is enjoying her new home in Los Angeles.

    We strive to support the unique needs of ALL survivors we serve. Because we believe that everyone deserves to live a life free from violence. 

    Crisis Line 818-887-6589

    You are not alone. We are here to help.