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Weathering the Holidays at Bennet

While the holidays are a fun and relaxing time for many at Bennet, for other students, the break means more than a week away from familiar routines and people. Staff members have learned to meet students' special December needs. Included: Tips for helping students cope with winter problems.

Pre-holiday jitters in December fan out to two extremes at Bennet Middle School.

In the days before Christmas some students are distracted, some irritable. There are the children who are excited about the holidays, gifts, and time off. And there are those who view the vacation as a ten-day sentence.

For many of the students, home is stressful and unpredictable. "They have everything they need here," one teacher said. "They have food, they have structure, and they have attention." Some kids can't count on all or any of the above where they live.

The result, as is the case in many schools during December, is that greater numbers of students are anxious and distracted and teachers see more outbursts than usual.

"We have a lot of kids melt down before the holidays," former principal Kathleen Ouellette said early in the year. "They don't want to go home, and or they have been told there is no money for Christmas. We do a lot for the holidays. We see the behavior escalate, we see anger, and some are cautious about what they share."

One year, when Ms. Ouellette heard a student's family had no money for Christmas, she rallied staff and collected money for a tree, lights, and gifts and had all the items delivered.

"We spent so much time running around before Christmas, that I thought we should just open the school Christmas Day," Ms. Ouellette said.


Holiday decorations around the school generally are subdued. Two big wreaths, adorned with bright Bennet-blue bows, decorate the outside doors.

The different teams plan holiday events to break up the routine, said interim principal Scott Gagnon.

Staff members also help students cope with pre-holiday stress with "lots of TLC and a lot of extra counseling," he added. "The social workers and guidance counselors are very busy. There is a lot of fear about the separation coming up. Sometimes, the holidays are just not fun times for kids."

Nurse visits also increase, as students stop by just to touch base with an adult, Mr. Gagnon noted.

To meet students' other needs, Bennet has a clothing bank, which distributes shirts, shoes, jackets, gloves, hats, jeans, and socks. By mid-December, the number of students picking up hats, gloves, and sweatshirts begins to increase, says Mr. Gagnon.

Because students walk among buildings to get to classes, dry socks in the winter are a rarity. Ms. Ouellete recalled how several girls simply burst into tears one day in her office. "They had just had it. Their socks were wet and their feet were freezing. We keep a lot of spare socks on hand."

School staff members even started a fuel bank for families who run out of heating fuel during the winter; money comes from the faculty "dress down" account.

Mr. Gagnon recalled visiting a family with Ms. Ouellette and other staff members one year to arrange for a fuel delivery to a family. "It was just a bitterly cold day," Mr. Gagnon said. "The family was all out of heating oil. Driving home, you ask yourself, 'How could that not bother you?' We chose to do something about it."

Education World Goes Back to School

Education World news editor Ellen R. Delisio is spending several days a month this school year with the Royal 7's, a seventh grade team at Bennet Middle School, a grade 6 to 8 school in Manchester, Connecticut. She is observing and participating in students' learning, and talking with staff about their strategies and perspectives on improving student performance. She is a graduate of W. Tresper Clarke Junior-Senior High School in Westbury, N.Y.

(Editor's Note: All students' names have been changed) 

Article by Ellen R. Delisio
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