MB teacher recounts experiences with two teenage Rwandan refugees in new book

By Christine Jenkins, MB math instructor, author

Christine and her daughter Sydney at the Yellow Umbrella book store in Chatham, Mass.

Christine and her daughter Sydney at the Yellow Umbrella book store in Chatham, Mass.

I was fortunate to recently have my first book signing in Chatham, Mass., where people vacation from all over the world. One woman was from the Netherlands, and she jokingly promised to post a review of my book and make me famous there. I especially enjoyed speaking to the children because they were curious about the process of writing a book. In fact, on separate occasions, two young girls convinced their parents to buy the book for them. I guess I now know who my target audience is!

About the book Fake Smiles & Lasagna

Book description:

one high school teacher…
two Rwandan refugees…
and a three-year journey of self-discovery

Christine Jenkins is a high school math teacher who has never heard of Kinyarwanda or Kigali. Sonia and Eugene are Rwandan teenagers who have just set foot on American soil. Assuming they need a parent, social worker, and miracle maker, Christine enters their lives with naïve notions of how their relationship will unfold. Her attempts to overcome cultural barriers come in the form of awkward conversations, forced smiles, material gifts – and lasagna. Lots of lasagna.

A series of life-changing events throws Christine’s plans off course, destroying her sense of security and control. As she slowly discovers what matters most, Eugene and Sonia gift her with lessons of faith, love, and resilience. Based on actual events, Fake Smiles and Lasagna is a tale of the transformative power of unlikely friendships – and how to find joy in unexpected places.



Transitioning back to school

By Jessica Stewart, MB school psychologistJessStewart

Wow, are we REALLY a matter of days away from the start of school?!? If it seems as unbelievable to you as it does to me, then you may also be feeling a bit overwhelmed by the “summer” things left to manage and the “school” things coming full speed ahead toward your family. Here are a few things that may be helpful as you set your sights on shifting gears back IN to the school year…for those of you who joined Betsy Sherry and me in May for the “Shifting Gears” chat about transitioning smoothly into summer, many of these points may be familiar as good things to consider when facing any major family transition (even really exciting ones).

Let’s start with some of the important logistics:

  • Sleep: It may be challenging to shift children back to a school sleep-schedule when summer often brings bedtime leniency. Have an explicit conversation with your children about how many hours are important for their brains to work their “best”, using the clock as a visual for younger children, and use the remaining nights before it’s “go time” to slowly work their way back into the appropriate range for bedtime…and, sadly, the awakening time, too. Whatever progress you make will help limit first-week fatigue.
  • Eating habits: Try to get meal schedules and ingredients back into a healthy and sustainable place. Maybe freeze meals ahead of time for those busy nights in the first few weeks?
  • Return to chores, responsibilities, and expectations that may have been lifted with summer freedom, as a way of helping kids return their focus on “doing,” contributing, and expectations of daily life.
  • If your child has any special needs or may require a little extra TLC, please feel comfortable reaching out to the new teacher before school starts (with your child, if appropriate). Take advantage of the materials Division Heads have sent home and any “drop in” times in your Division, even just to walk the halls and get used to the layout again. This can spark fond memories and get children excited about what’s coming, instead of lamenting what is ending.
  • Involve your kids, when appropriate, in helping to brainstorm the list of school supplies, lunch/snack ideas, and even packing the backpacks ahead of time. Preparedness reduces anxiety, and prioritizing helps us know where to start.
  • On that note, prioritize some last-minute FUN! This does not have to be a whirlwind event or trip; think: simple, settled activities that are “special” to the family at home, helping everyone connect a bit more before the hurriedness of school schedules makes us feel dis
  • To further that mission, discuss openly the idea of how staying connected even after school starts will be important, and brainstorm as a family how to do this in a way that is realistic even if a bit challenging to pull off (e.g., family game night, schedule a special family day for each of the next few months to look forward to).
  • Outlining the schedule of after school commitments and other things impacting the family’s time for the coming months helps get everyone in the mindset of the routine and the pace ahead. Do this visually on a master family calendar, with different color markers for each person?

Additional Tidbits to make for smooth routines:

  • Make lunches, pack backpacks, and get outfits picked out the night before. I always suggest to kids who struggle managing time in the morning to pick 2 outfits out: one that is a “back up”, go-to outfit in case the other just doesn’t “feel right” in the morning.
  • Keep the TV off in the morning: if kids have any free time in the morning they should spend it doing something that activates their brains (e.g., coloring, reviewing flashcards, reading, going over the lessons of the day ahead) rather than passively watching TV, which itself is also a distracting time-sucker in the morning.
  • Set alarm clocks: even Lower School kids can get used to being responsible for their own movement through the day…from the first “bell!”
  • Designate a study/work area for completing homework that allows for quiet and focus but also supervision, monitoring, and encouragement.
  • Have a set spot for backpacks/lunches, but also a place for kids to leave papers coming home for you to review.

Anxiety: know that some nervousness about a new school year is normal for kids of all ages and can last from days to a few weeks. Kids can display a wide variety of behaviors in anticipation of the start of school. While most reactions should not be over-interpreted and will resolve with time, you can be helpful by:

  • Modeling confidence and optimism but don’t be dismissive. Their worries are real to them, especially if you child has struggled in school in the past.
  • Letting them know you care about their concerns by asking what has them nervous or worried. Follow up with questions about what’s exciting (seeing friends, new teacher, new subject) to help them see a balanced perspective and that nervousness can coexist with positive emotions.
  • Ask them to recall how they have persisted through stress or conflict in the past to remind them of their own resilience and problem solving skills.
  • Don’t feed their anxiety with your own: kids feel parents’ emotional reactions, which can make their own so much stronger. Stay calm and model self-talk and resourcefulness in discussing how to find out more about something that may be uncertain for you or your child.   (If you are still feeling anxiety of your own about the year ahead, talk about it with your friends or a school professional, not your child!)

If your child is experiencing more severe anxiety or fear about school, they may be dealing with more significant academic, social, or emotional difficulties. You should reach out to your child’s teacher and/or the School Psychologist (me!) to set up a time to address an underlying struggle for your child.

For more helpful information on successfully transitioning into a new school year (or any other topic!), visit the family resource page of the National Association of School Psychologists: http://www.nasponline.org/families/index.aspx