Reassuring Children during COVID-19

As families shelter at home, many may experience a disruption of daily routines and feel challenged by a lack of predictability. During this time, children need to feel safe. Dr. Brandy Schumann, clinical associate professor of counseling at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, says kids will be seeking additional reassurance from their caregivers to soothe their perception of chaos. Here are some of Schumann’s tips to help.

  • Talk about what is going on. It is important for kids to have developmentally appropriate information about why life has changed so much. This story/ coloring book from LSU is a great bibliotherapy resource. Reading it aloud to your child will help explain things in a developmentally appropriate level.
  • Acknowledge feelings. Validating your child’s feelings about changes can enhance connection and ease worries and anxiety. Kids may also be experiencing sadness and disappointment about missing out on extracurricular activities, birthday parties, and playdates. You may experience your child as hypersensitive at this time, seeming to overreact to the small things. Try to respond with patience, understanding the reaction is less about the specific moment and more about a reaction to the state of our environment. Remember, when it seems like your child might need a time out, probably it is a need for a time in with you.
  • A 30 second burst of quality attention from you, assuring your child that you are available to them when they need you, is usually all that is needed to help them re-regulate.
  • Kids play–it is their natural mode of communication. As things change in their lives and they become more aware of why, you will find that it will emerge in their play. This will help them gain a sense of control over what feels so out of control. For example, at dinner, my 4-7- and 12-year old children were eating flour tortillas and shaping them into medical masks that they laid across their faces. My 7-year-old laughed hysterically and said, “Hey mom, if they do run out of masks, they can just use tortillas!” This is them “playing” out their world just as we adults talk out ours.
  • Schedule tech-free time. Tech-free family time can create opportunities for greater connection. Imagine one year from now, what memories to you want your child to have from this time. Use this opportunity together to build your relationship. Many of us are overscheduled. This may be the first time in a while that they and you have “free” time. Get creative. Have fun.
  • Allow your kids to use technology to connect with their friends. Social distancing does not have to mean that we can no longer connect with each other. Help your kids brainstorm creative ways to connect with their friends.
  • Take care of yourself. It can feel overwhelming as a parent to have to take on the role of teacher as well as continue full-time work. This time will be stressful. It is important for parents to engage in self-care.  For example, stick to child bedtime routines to ensure “adult time.”
  • Call a counselor. Many are available via telehealth for individual sessions or parent consultation.

Brandy Schumann, Ph.D., specializes in play therapy and serves as a clinical faculty member for SMU Simmon’s Counseling program and the Center for Family Counseling.  She co-wrote these tips with SMU counseling alumna, Vivian Murcia,’ 17, M.S.


DMN Editorial on Dept. of Ed Funding Changes to Rural Schools Relies on Simmons Expertise

Simmons professors Alexandra Pavlakis and Meredith Richards look at research information with Kessa Roberts, post doctoral fellow.

Simmons post doctoral fellow Kessa Roberts, Ph.D, explains current facts about rural schools in a Dallas Morning News editorial looking at a Department of Education plan to reduce their funding

A bipartisan effort by U.S. senators stopped changes that would impact already impoverished and struggling rural schools. Roberts notes that the country’s majority of rural students reside in Texas. She says that additionally Texas provides less funding to rural schools than most states. Read more.

Roberts is part of the research team created by Simmons professors Alexandra Pavlakis and Meredith Richards to examine education data on Houston homeless students. Read more on the Simmons blog.

Simmons School Ranked in Top 25 of Private Schools by U.S. News and World Report

A significant rise in rankings places SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development in the top tier of graduate education schools according to the 2021 U.S. News & World Report, released online March 17. Simmons’ new ranking of 63 for public and private graduate schools of education leaps over last year’s 105.

Only two Texas universities rank higher than SMU Simmons–UT Texas at Austin and Texas A&M at College Station. Among national private universities, Simmons is in the top 25. Rankings were assessed for 255 schools.

“Our faculty members understand the importance of collaborating and focusing on research that improves educational outcomes for all students,” said Leon Simmons Endowed Dean Stephanie L. Knight. “I am proud of them and their incredible productivity. They continue to raise the bar for scholarship and consistently translate their research into practice.”

“We are a very young school that was established at SMU in 2005.  Despite our youth and our relatively small size, the ranking demonstrates that we are nationally competitive and that our contributions to research are significant,” she added.

For ranking education schools, U.S. News & World Report considers measures of academic quality, including faculty resources, student selectivity, doctoral degrees granted, in addition to peer assessment scores and research activity.



Equipping Nonprofits to Provide Services for the West Dallas STEM School

Clarissa Garcia and Jill Collum from Mercy Street (l. to r.) chat with Shellie Ross and Rachel Kramer from Wesley-Rankin Community Center.

A key feature of the West Dallas STEM School is a strategic collaboration with the nonprofit sector to provide embedded or nearby social services that will directly support PreK-8 students, families, school staff, and the broader community.

A portion of the $2 million planning grant made to SMU by Toyota has been sub-granted to convene three cohorts of nonprofits to increase their learning and readiness capacity for possible participation in the school. A pilot cohort of six nonprofits – AVANCE North Texas, Brother Bill’s Helping Hand, Dallas Afterschool, Mercy Street, The Concilio, and Wesley-Rankin Community Center – met for five months during the 2019 spring semester to engage in planning and capacity building work.

The topics they tackled included learning the history of West Dallas for current context, understanding community cultural wealth, identifying opportunities for continuous improvement, building a collaborative culture, and exploring to school-community partnerships.

Cohort II begins in March 2020 and will include nine sessions with up to 12 participating nonprofit organizations. “The first cohort served as a pilot, providing learning opportunities for nonprofit participants and those of us planning the sessions,” said Erin O. Crosby, a co-lead for the Community Development Design Team representing SMU, DISD, and Toyota. “Having three years to plan a school is a gift, especially when co-designing features like wraparound services to benefit everyone in the school as well as the broader community. We want the nonprofits to feel ready and be ready to succeed in this new and innovative space on day one.”


West Dallas STEM School Partnership Connects with Gabe Allen Elementary

In the spring of 2019, the West Dallas STEM School partnership began collaborating with Gabe Allen Elementary School’s principal Sheila Ortiz Espinell to support teacher learning.

Members of the professional learning design team, led by SMU Simmons professor Annie Wilhelm, Ph.D., and Dallas ISD’s Shannon Terry, Ph.D., met with Ms. Ortiz and her leadership team to learn more about their school and their vision for where the school was headed.

Similar meetings were held with the faculty to determine what should be included in professional learning, and the result was to focus on writing and project-based learning for science classes.

Assistant Professor Amy Gillespie Rouse at SMU Simmons started monthly professional development sessions for third to fifth-grade teachers on writing-to-learn. Also, SMU Research Assistant Professor Jeanna Wieselmann laid the foundation for project-based learning in science. The project-based unit is developed with fifth-grade science teachers who will be the first to implement it in mid-February. The intent is for the other grade levels also to have the opportunity to experience project-based learning this year.

The partnership will continue into the 2021-22 school year, and respond to the emerging needs of the campus community.

Gándara Discusses Pluses and Minuses of Performance-based Funding for State Colleges and Universities

Assistant Professor of Higher Education Denisa Gándara, SMU Simmons

The Conversation, a journalistic publication focusing on academia, interviews Denisa Gándara, assistant professor of higher education in Simmons, about performance-based funding for state colleges and universities.

She points out there is a resurgence in tying state funding to graduation rates because of a renewed interest in college completion. The Great Recession also pushed state legislators to ask higher education institutions to do more with less.  The question is, does performance-based funding work?

“I call performance-based funding policies the “zombies of higher education,” she says. “I say this because they seem to be the higher education policies that no amount of evidence can kill.” Read more on why she believes the approach does not work.

Gándara first published a paper on the topic in the Journal of Higher Education, May 2019.

West Dallas STEM School Featured in Park Cities People Insert on STEAM

SMU’s Stephanie L. Knight, Leon Simmons Endowed Dean, heads up the planning grant for the upcoming West Dallas STEM School.

Park Cities People and Preston Hollow People published a special section on STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) education, including an article on the design and planning for the new West Dallas STEM school. The work for the PreK-8 school is supported by a $2 million grant provided by Toyota USA Foundation to SMU Simmons. Read more about the partnership between Simmons, Dallas ISD, Toyota, and members of the West Dallas communities.

CORE Finds Positive Results for Summer Programs Run by the Dallas City of Learning Collaborative

Annie Wright, director of evaluation for CORE

The Dallas City of Learning, an organizational effort to fight student loss of learning during summer, received a positive assessment from the Center on Research and Evaluation at SMU Simmons.

Annie Wright, CORE’s director of evaluation, reported that the more students participated in summer learning programs, the more pronounced were the gains.

“What we’re seeing is that the effect of summer learning extends well into the school year,” Wright said.

The Dallas City of Learning is a partnership between the City of Dallas, Dallas ISD, and Big Thought. Read more.

Marketplace Radio Reports on Status of Student Loans Using Dominique Baker’s Expertise

More students from higher-income families are taking out loans to go to college, according to a Marketplace report on public radio. Assistant Professor Dominique Baker explains how higher-income families are more apt to chose more expensive schools and also use Parent PLUS, which allows borrowing up to the full cost of attendance.

Baker says, “Income is not wealth. That’s critical to keep in mind because there are some families that have the same amounts of income, but they have different economic resources that they can tap into to help support students through college.”  Read more.