Riverview School invites students to see past the mask
Reflection exercise brightens perspectives, helps students understand each other better
Danna Cuc Valenzuela and Logan Averill are second graders at Riverview School and have been friends since preschool, so they’re pretty familiar with what’s behind each other’s masks.
“My dream is to travel the world and go find new places,” Averill said. “I’ve been to Canada, Florida and my mom says next year we’re going to Ohio…I would like to go to Iceland and see the Aurora Borealis.”
Cuc Valenzuela said she dreams of being a fashion designer one day, and that Logan can make her laugh despite the fact that they’re both masked when at school together.
“Logan I think she’s ready behind her mask every single day, like behind her mask she’s like, ‘sup Danna?’ But she’s mostly happy under the mask…This is how good we’re friends,” Cuc Valenzua said as she positioned her hands close together to illustrate their friendship.
Adam Volek, Principal at Riverview, a school for preschool through eighth grade, said that the “Behind My Mask” project was designed to celebrate their students and give them a platform to talk about who they are, their hopes and dreams, all these things that don’t go away just because they spend the school day with their faces mostly covered.
“When you have a variety of different age levels, you know our younger kids see our older kids as heroes, and are able to look up to them in an amazing way…I think the idea is that we make so many assumptions about who we think people are. And I think that this project is really capitalizing on knowing people and having compassion and empathy for people,” Volek said.
The verdict from the students was that although masks are annoying and frustrating to wear, they’ve also become a part of their routine.
Third graders Sawyer Will and Dylan Swann said at this point they hardly think about it. Swann even tried to look down and see his StormTrooper mask while he was wearing it because he had forgotten which one he had chosen to wear that day. The two boys’ dreams varied, Will said he hopes to overcome his food allergies some day and Swann said he wants to climb all the 14ers in Colorado, and that he’s already checked a few off the list. They were able to see past one another’s masks and share their interests and attitudes, things that aren’t taken away by mask-wearing, but perhaps can now only be experienced from a greater distance.
“He follows directions a lot and is very nice to others,” Swann said about Will. “It was really fun telling our personalities and putting them up on the wall for everyone to see them.”
Alex Romanyshyn, an eighth-grade teacher at Riverview, wrote in a reflection about the project that it isn’t uncommon for middle schoolers to “wear a mask” even in non-pandemic years, as they struggle with how to express themselves or want to be perceived by fellow students. He said instead of a focus on differences, the activity gave students to hone in on things they have in common with one another.
“This activity has also brightened up our school. Now when students and staff walk through the hallways not only can we see the smiling eyes of our students, but we can see the beautiful smile they all wear behind their masks,” Romanyshyn wrote.
Sixth graders Tate Brooks and Lizbeth Horta Landa said the dreams they wrote down were to see an end to world hunger, from Brooks, and to one day become a veterinarian, although Horta Landa said she doesn’t have any pets of her own at home. The two of them are in the same class and Horta Landa said she admires Brooks’ hard work ethic when it comes to learning.
“Tate’s a caring person and he’s really smart. Even though things can get pretty hard for him, he tries his best and won’t give up on them,” Horta Landa said.
Kaitlyn Hernandez and Amy Gonzalez are close friends and Eighth graders that lifted each other up when they explained what’s behind the other’s mask. Hernandez said her dream is to go to college, since she’d be a first-generation student in her family. She added that Gonzalez always puts a smile on others faces — even if she’s dealing with her own personal hardships, she looks to connect with the people around her in a positive way. Gonzalez said Hernandez may be quiet, but she’s still there for others when they need her.
“You really do care about everyone equally even though you don’t know a person you can really just make friends with them easily. And you’re very smart, even though you say you’re not, you are,” Gonzalez said.
Cuc Valenzuela said it best when she explained how her mask made her feel: safe and happy, even when she grows tired of wearing it.
“I feel happy because I’m safe in it, but I hate it. It’s uncomfortable, but I’m glad I have it to be safe. The two sway (back and forth). There’s a reason why we (wear) them so I’m glad we do,” Cuc Valenzuela said.
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Glenwood Springs Middle School’s Autumn Rivera was named one of four finalists for the National Teacher of the Year award Wednesday.