Creating a Safe Space for All


Kylie Hansen

I Need a Safe Space

As schools begin to reopen, families need to consider the benefits and risks associated with in-person instruction and distance learning. Schools must follow health guidelines to ensure that they reopen safely. Due to distance learning, schools all over the country are facing a variety of challenges, including students not having access to technology, and students possibly being in unsafe homes. 

Some students are being held back from their full potential because of their environment during distance learning. For example, a student may be undergoing physical, sexual, or emotional mistreatment and abuse. Without being on campus, the student is deprived of a safe space to learn. Clearly, this is unfair; these students are at a disadvantage, while other students in a safe and stable environment are able to learn at their full potential. Dr. Stewart Grace, an English teacher at SHC, said “I do think we need to prioritize those students to provide them with a safe space, even before we prioritize technology issues like internet connections, or space issues, like other people working in the house.” 

At Sacred Heart Cathedral, students who have been identified for different reasons are being prioritized by being a part of a learning hub sponsored by the Bay Scholar learning Program. The Bay Scholar learning hub provides a group of students to be on campus in cohorts. To ensure stable cohorts, a student may only partake in one cohort. These students go through a daily health screening process, filling out a questionnaire on an app called Ruvna. After the questionnaire is taken, the app gives the student a QR code which they will scan at SHC, and each student and staff member’s temperature is taken daily. Now you may be wondering, who supervises the students that are part of the Bay Scholar learning hub? The school has hired substitute teachers to supervise these students along with Ms. Washington, Ms. Mendoza, and other counselors.

Not only has COVID-19 forced students to stay home in possible unsafe home environments, but cases of abuse and neglect are also not being reported on a national scale, because teachers and administrators are the main source of abuse reports. The Washington, D.C Child and Family Services Agency recorded a 62 percent decrease in child abuse reporting calls between mid-March and April 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019. However, the decrease in calls is not a positive thing. Just because there has been a decrease in reported cases does not mean that abuse is not happening. These statistics show that since the start of quarantine more than half of the cases being reported have dropped.

Currently, students undergoing abuse will need to advocate for themselves so that they are heard during this time of distance learning. There is only so much a teacher can notice about a student’s personal life through a Zoom class. SHC has many resources including the many adults at SHC that students can trust and go to when they are in need of something. A student’s main resource at SHC are the counselors the school offers. Every student is likely to meet with their counselor at some point during each semester. 

A survey was sent out on October 5, 2020 by the SHC administration during the first quarter, generally asking how distance learning went. According to the data from the Fall 2020 Distance Learning Student Survey, 66.67% of sophomores and 69.72% of seniors have not met with a counselor one on one. Regarding the 9th and 11th graders who filled out the survey, only 53.7% have met with their counselors. Although more than half of SHC students have not met with their counselor one on one as of the beginning of October, the counselors at SHC continue to work hard to meet with every student as soon as possible. As of October 2020 SHC has 1,362 students, so it is almost impossible to meet with every student in a timely manner. However, the school encourages every student to use your counselors or any adult at SHC as a resource. If a student at Sacred Heart Cathedral feels they need to speak with their counselor, he/she can make an appointment at any time. Students do not have to wait for their counselor to assign them a meeting. The school needs to be aware of students in unsafe homes, and without communicating with every SHC student, they won’t be able to identify who’s feeling unsafe, so if you feel the need to talk to an adult, we encourage you to schedule a meeting with your school counselor or talk to any adult you trust at SHC. 

Now you may be wondering, what happens once a student in an unsafe home advocates for themselves? Well, there is a process that happens after a student reports that they feel unsafe at their home. Assistant Principal for Academics Joan O’Neill said that “First we need to determine if there is any immediate danger, and if there is, we would immediately contact Child Protective Services or 911. Presuming that this does not involve any immediate danger, we would work with the student and try and figure out their network of support, as well as following our legally mandated duty. Once we turn the case over to Child Protective Services they make those decisions.” 

Aryanna Caluag ‘22 said that, “Even though COVID-19 is a big risk for elders and seniors, I still feel for those who are in a toxic or unstable household. I feel bad for people in those situations, and I wish there was something that could be done in order to help them.” Sacred Heart Cathedral counselors and teachers are great resources the school provides. The resources provided are able to give students at SHC a safe space to learn, and talk to a trusted adult. 

We want students to take care of themselves and others.”

— Ms. Julia Rinaldi

One way SHC is addressing life during the pandemic is to partner with ONE LOVE, an organization committed to helping people “love better” in all relationships. Specifically, Wellness Department Chairperson, Julia Rinaldi, has worked hard with Brea Kaye, from ONE LOVE to provide lessons for every 9th-12th grader on healthy relationships, red flags that mark unhealthy relationships, consent and upstanding during the Fall 2020 Semester. Ms. Julia Rinaldi notes “We aim to create safe spaces, normalize important conversations and encourage upstanding by equipping our students with information to help them navigate the world with grace, confidence and empathy using their voices for good. We want students to take care of themselves and each other.” Not only is SHC educating the students, but, our parent/guardian community also received this training on November 4 during a Parent Association meeting. One Love believes that discussions in which students and their parents have the same conversation using the same language stimulates healthy home environments. Rinaldi adds, “During these times, we know that we don’t know the home life of all of our students. Often emotional and physical abuse is hidden, silenced and/or ignored. But by resourcing all of our student/parent community with the language to identify healthy vs. unhealthy relationships and bring this issue to light, we can empower us all to speak up, use our voices, call out behaviors that are toxic and report any harm with more trust and ease.” SHC is offering this education, in the hope this will provide resources to our student community.  

Although distance learning has put some students in possibly challenging and unsafe situations, Sacred Heart Cathedral continues to work hard to make sure students’ needs are accommodated. It is clear that SHC is committed to social emotional learning. The school offers a variety of resources, with the main resource being counseling and having students educated through the schools partnership with ONE LOVE. The Emerald encourages every student to take advantage of these resources.