A mother of a 9-year-old boy turned a bullying incident into a teachable moment for her son’s classmates with some help from his teacher.
A few weeks ago, Rebecca Wen’s son was berated by a schoolyard bully at Arthur M. Judd Elementary School in North Brunswick, New Jersey. The bully reportedly accused the boy of being infected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) just because he’s Chinese American.
In an interview with Good Morning America, Wen admitted that she felt upset and initially wanted to “find this kid and have a little chat with him.”
According to Wen, her son came home crying that day and told her he felt embarrassed that people thought he had a disease just because of his Chinese ethnicity.
“It broke my heart to see the effect that it had on him,” she was quoted as saying.
Wen held her anger and decided to make the incident a learning moment for her son. She joined him in researching COVID-19 and together they discussed the facts about the pandemic.
Together, they learned that the disease came from Wuhan, China and it gets transmitted through respiratory droplets, possibly on surfaces. Based on what they read from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person’s ethnicity has nothing to do with contracting the disease.
Unfortunately, as the disease spreads globally, reports of harassment and attacks against people of Asian descent became more and more frequent in many parts of the world.
Wen saw the impact of their research on her son, who felt reassured that nothing was wrong with him. She then figured that other children may benefit from what they’ve learned.
“We live in a town that is 27% Asian American, so I was thinking this is probably not the only time this is going to happen,” Wen said. “I bet other Asian American children in our community are dealing with this, too.”
She then reached out to her son’s fourth-grade teacher, Stacie Oliveri, to suggest a way to turn the situation into a powerful teaching moment for the other students.
Oliveri agreed that it was a lesson that has to be shared with the entire class.
“I didn’t feel it was one student that was just saying it to him,” Oliveri said. “I needed to squash what I could squash.”
Oliveri devised a special lesson explaining what viruses are and how vaccines work. She then shared that there isn’t a vaccine yet for novel coronavirus and highlighted the importance of staying informed on how to prevent it from spreading.
When the questions from her curious class started pouring in, she was quick to respond to them with facts.
“Someone asked, ‘Aren’t all Chinese people infected with this?’ and another would say, ‘They’re infecting us and my dad said not to eat Chinese food,'” said Oliveri. “So I would come back to them and go, ‘What did we just learn? That’s not how this works. Anyways, I ate Chinese food last night and I feel fine.'”
Oliveri pointed out that some of the confusion she found in the students originated from the misinformation that their parents may have perpetuated at home. She noted that she herself is frustrated in the number of adults on Facebook who share xenophobic posts.
“It’s frustrating as an educator because people take the pandemonium they see online during this crisis and form opinions that their kids can latch on to,” she added.
Oliveri’s class reportedly calmed down after she addressed all their questions and provided information that they can take away with them. She also urged the kids to share what they learned with others.
Feature Image via Good Morning America