Alum used writing to help students during pandemic

Glenda Moton urged her students to write about their hopes and fears during the pandemic.

By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau

Glenda Moton feared returning to the classroom last year and shared that in a professional development seminar, when teachers were asked for their hopes and fears.

She later wondered why nobody asks the students.

That launched an idea for the Grand Canyon University alumna.

When Moton returned to the classroom at North Miami Senior High School in Florida, she wrote two words on her whiteboard: “Hopes and Fears.”

The students quickly put pen to paper.

They wrote about fears of losing a family member, financial stability, suicide, depression and isolation, and hopes of returning to normalcy. Their ninth-grade Honors English and Pre-International Baccalaureate class writing project became a self-published book, “Hopes and Fears: Learning Academically in a COVID-19 Environment,” available on Amazon.

Student Lee-Yahna Lawson wrote: “I fear that I might die or someone close to me might die from this virus.”

“They laid out their feelings. This has taken a toll on all of us, teachers, parents, administrators and students. I was losing kids, and by that I mean academically. Some kids just stopped coming to school,” Moton said, looking back on the school year that recently ended.

“It was an interesting year but a positive one because of this.”

The writing project created media interest in South Florida and was recently featured in the Miami Herald, the local National Public Radio affiliate and on Miami TV news.

“One student wrote about how her mother was laid off and had no income but somehow the bills got paid, and her faith got her through. Another young lady didn’t like to express her feelings but saw others do it, so thought she could do it as well,” Moton said. “One went without food for the day.

“Those are moments as a teacher that just hit you.”

As they wrote, the students felt relief.

Student Hugens Jnlouis told WSVN’s 7News: “Once you write it down or talk about it, you feel like a weight is lifted off your shoulders.”

Moton, 66, also knew about the weight of the pandemic. She was worried that she was in the vulnerable category for getting COVID. But she harkened back to her own youth for a way to ease her anxiety and those of her students.

“Writing is a form of therapy for all of us. When I was growing up I had those little journals with the lock on them,” she said. “It is like releasing anxiety. When they reflect back and how they were able to conquer those circumstances it makes a big difference.”

Moton earned her master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from GCU in 2010 and has been a teacher for 21 years.

She is using what she learned at GCU to follow-up the book project with a curriculum guide for teachers next year in her new role as a critical support specialist. Its goal is to ensure that teachers meet the needs of all students who have been affected by the pandemic – mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually — by using techniques such as creative writing, journaling and meditation.

GCU graduates shined on the front lines at schools across the country and recently wrapped up a trying year.

“The College of Education has seen our educators across the nation face unsurmountable stress, uncountable and unforeseen challenges and the need to turn on a dime to support all of our learners from all backgrounds,” said COE Assistant Dean Emily Pottinger. “Glenda Moton is a perfect example of what our COE graduates bring to the table and why we hold our teachers and educational leaders in the highest regard.”

Moton typifies that COE spirit. She paid for publishing of the book out of her own pocket, and all proceeds go toward scholarships for the students.

What she saw develop inspired her, the ways students were able to express sorrow and anxiety but also empathy and hope.

“The students feel accomplished, they said they feel better about themselves,” Moton said. “They are happy to be a published author.”

A teacher lives to make that kind of impact, she said, helping students who had been shut down and shut off from others emerge to express what they feel again.

“Teaching is about that human connection,” she said.

The students signed each other’s copies of the book, which Moton described as proof of what they had all endured – and could write about.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.


Related content:

GCU Today: GCU didn’t let pandemic stop teaching practicums

GCU Today: GCU initiative facilitates the L.E.A.P. into teaching

GCU Today: How GCU remains one of largest sources of teachers


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