Today, kids are growing up in a drastically different world compared to what came before. Parenting has never been easy, but with all the new technology and different means of communication, it is only getting harder. One of the most challenging aspects of parenting is communication. As a parent, it can be difficult to know when to introduce your kids to social issues like peer pressure or drugs, but it can be even more of a burden when you’re not sure how to bring it up.
Norterra Canyon, a K-8 school in Arizona, has implemented a program designed by MASK (Mothers Awareness on School-age Kids), called MASK Academy and MASK Prep, to introduce kids to social issues in a healthy way and get them discussing these issues at an early age. The program is designed to meet the curriculum of the kids’ classes, but it is an opportunity for the students to have a conversation about these tough topics and prepares them before the unexpected occurs. Norterra Canyon parent Brooke Colvin, says, “The MASK program opens up the door of communication in such a warm and inviting way for parents, students and teachers.” By taking part in this program, the kids are introduced to these issues at an early age and are equipped with the tools to handle them much earlier on.
As a parent, it can be scary sending your child to school and not being quite sure what they are learning. That’s why MASK offers Parent University to parents of children participating in the MASK program which reviews what their children have learned. Barbara Benjamin, mother of a 2nd and 4th grader at Norterra Canyon, says, “The best way to know what your kids are learning in the MASK program is to come to a parent university meeting. It lets you know what your kids are learning and gives you the tools to help combat the issues with them.” MASK wants to open up the conversation between adults and children about some daunting topics that must be discussed.
MASK Academy (K-6th grade) and MASK Prep (middle and high school) offer age-appropriate content for these two different age groups, which makes it easier to connect with a variety of kids who may be on different levels, socially and emotionally. When asked if the MASK program was having a positive impact on these kids, one mother, Mary Smitten, says, “The MASK program fulfills all levels of emotional needs.” She added that she made sure the MASK program made it to the special education classrooms and how the program is just as effective for those students as well.
Mary also shared a story about one of the 4th grade classes at Norterra Canyon. She recounted that a substitute taught one of their classes before the MASK program was implemented and the class was out of control and would not behave. The same substitute teacher came back to the same students a year after the MASK program was implemented, and the substitute refused to believe it was the same group of students. The children were so different and well behaved she thought there was no way it could be the same kids.
Although the MASK program has just started, it has already made a profound impact on students, teachers and parents. At Norterra Canyon, there has been a noticeable difference in behavior and means of communication between students and adults. The MASK program is designed to meet the curriculum of classes by including writing and science components, but it is also important to note the social and emotional benefits students will receive from taking part in MASK Academy or MASK Prep. Parenting is only getting harder, and MASK is on your side to help open the doors of communication and give you and your child the tools to combat any issue that may arise.
From the pressures of academics to staying involved in school activities, school can be extremely difficult. Nowadays, students are facing even more issues such as drugs, bullying, cyber safety, and depression. However, MASK (Mothers Awareness on School-age Kids), a non-profit organization, is committed to promoting healthy conversations with families about these topical subjects.
MASK Academy and MASK Prep programs meets Arizona academic standards, meaning instructors will not have to do additional work. Along with detailed videos, students reflect in journals and discuss the material with their peers.
At Norterra Canyon, a K-8 school in Phoenix, students are engaging in authentic, real-world conversations in an appropriate yet dutiful way. Not only are students learning about a variety of topics from cyber safety to bullying, they are also having fun while doing it.
Principal Tish Mineer, who has worked at the school for four years, explained her perspective about the impact and success MASK has had at Norterra Canyon. This is the second year the school has utilized the MASK program in their school. Mineer constantly speaks and reflects with the students about MASK lessons. Mineer describes a particular interaction she had with students.
“When we had some kids who were concerned about classmates that may have seemed suicidal, I went and got the MASK journals and we looked at that back page of emergency contacts and I told them ‘this is your resource, this is to support you.’”
Norterra Canyon has also switched the learning process from an assembly mode to a digital format, which has been even more successful. MASK created videos which allows teachers to stop and discuss the material in depth with their students. Mineer said, “We do MASK Wednesdays, so MASK Academy and MASK Prep are presented each week. Teachers are expected to teach a MASK lesson or discussion every Wednesday about the topics they are currently discussing. It was very supportive to have it be in small chunks. The lesson could be anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. Having it weekly is way more impactful than having one big assembly.”
Many staff members were hesitant and worried to teach their students these hard-hitting topics, but partnering with MASK has put them at ease. For Principal Tish Mineer it was imperative that the information in the videos was not incorrectly portrayed. She said she can trust teachers to be teaching the right things.
“They have to be taught about these things so that they don’t ever have an experience. They have to be provided opportunities to think about these things that are in our culture that we don’t want to discuss, but we need to do it in a way that does not sensationalize it, that doesn’t minimize it and doesn’t provide misinformation. And that’s something I so appreciate about MASK — that I can trust the information that is given to my teachers.”
Since all grade levels are being taught similar information, the entire school climate and atmosphere has positively changed. There is a strong relationship between the teachers, students, parents and the principal which has fostered a stronger sense of community.
“Reminding parents to check their child’s social media has reduced the amount of social bullying on our campus, and statistically I can prove it with the drop in referrals to my office. There has been a drastic drop, and in the last six weeks I haven’t had any referrals regarding social media, which has not happened all year until I started encouraging parents to check their child’s social media. It’s something so simple but has such a huge impact.”