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Saturday, February 22, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Finch Elementary aims to reduce student stress ahead of the holidays

Finch Elementary 3rd grade teacher Christian Skalstead smiles as students create a human snowman during CCR Day on Wednesday. During CCR Day students choose a teacher to go back and connect with. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Finch Elementary 3rd grade teacher Christian Skalstead smiles as students create a human snowman during CCR Day on Wednesday. During CCR Day students choose a teacher to go back and connect with. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

During Angela Lefler’s first-grade class at Finch Elementary School in northwest Spokane on Wednesday, some of her former students dropped by for an hour of play.

Connect, Create and Remember, they call it at Finch, a bit of whimsy that couldn’t be timed any better.

Educators see it every year before winter break. Some kids are anxious and stressed, and it has nothing to do with what might be under the Christmas tree.

In many homes, the holidays bring unwanted reconnections: dysfunctional family members, arguments and fights. For others, there’s guilt over financial inability to match the holiday ideals portrayed on television.

For many children from unstable households, the holidays remove them from the most stable place they know: their neighborhood school.

“We know that their routine gets thrown to the wind during the two weeks off,” said Shane O’Doherty, principal at Finch.

“Kids get nervous, because some parents have to work and the kids may have to stay with family, so this time of year kids tend to be a little stressed,” O’Doherty said.

Then again, so do teachers, but what can be done about it?

The answer came last month, shortly after O’Doherty and his staff finished a Culturally Responsive Training seminar.

The training is designed primarily to give teachers better insights into how they interact with students, but it also inspired them.

“We talked about how it affects our community, our classroom and ourselves,” O’Doherty said. “But the feedback was that we needed to do a better job of reconnecting with kids.”

“I said, ‘Why don’t we try to do a fun day, and allow them to connect with one of their former teachers or they could connect with teachers they haven’t had before?’ ”

Fun day was only for an hour, but well worth it on the cusp of the holidays. They call it CCR – for Connect (with someone), Create (something fun), and Remember (you are valued by many … not just your teacher).

No matter the label, it was a hit.

Lefler, a teacher at Finch for the past 35 years, reveled in the experience of having former students return, if only for an hour.

“You see how they’ve changed and how they’ve matured,” said Lefler, whose husband and children also attended Finch. “You also see that some of them have new dreams.”

On Wednesday, the aim was to build Christmas ornaments. One of Lefler’s former first-grade students, T.J. McNair, also enjoyed the frosted doughnuts and the camaraderie.

Glancing at Lefler, he said, “She’s always very nice and one of my favorite teachers.”

Down the hall, third-grade teacher Sara Little welcomed former students back with a snowman-building game. The raw materials include a student and dozens of rolls of toilet paper; moments later, several kids were transformed into paper snowmen.

Moments later, all would be featured on Pinterest.

By all accounts, the event was a success.

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