Return to Headlines

Big shoes illustrate important lesson at James Lane Allen

When explaining an idiom like “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” to younger students, sometimes it’s best to stick with a tangible example. That’s why Lora Magness stopped by Goodwill to pick up three scuffed pairs of oversized men’s shoes for kids at James Lane Allen Elementary to try. It was all part of an after-school lesson on empathy; it’s an abstract concept to teach youngsters, but one that will serve them well as they practice social/emotional skills.

Magness, a district mental health specialist, leads one-hour sessions on Monday afternoons thanks to a two-year grant from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER). Madeline Potter, the Family Resource Center coordinator at James Lane Allen, had applied for the COVID-related grant to bolster mental health services, including crisis intervention and one-on-one therapy. “We are seeing a high number of students with increased depression, anxiety –just a lot of problems. They’re different than they were a couple of years ago,” she said. Magness agreed, adding, “Isolation is not healthy in the social development of children. It’s not normal for kids not to be around kids.”  

Potter lined up Magness for the weekly lessons with about two dozen third, fourth, and fifth graders in the school’s 21st Century Program, which provides enrichment activities for qualifying children. “It’s like they have a toolbox for how to deal with things and identify their emotions. We talk a lot about kindness and helping others,” Potter said. “This class helps them to feel comfortable in their school and to feel supported.”

The group has explored the interaction of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; and they have practiced coping strategies like deep breathing. In one exercise, Magness tossed balls onto a parachute on the gym floor, labeling each color a different emotion such as red for anger. The students found it hard to knock out one particular color, which illustrated how their emotions are entangled.

close-up of oversized men's shoes, brown with laces untiedWhen trying on the big shoes, each child took a turn walking the width of the basketball court and back. Each also selected a slip of paper with a short scenario to discuss with their team, such as what do you say to a friend who returns to school after their grandmother’s funeral, and how do you respond if someone makes fun of your clothes. Afterward, the group sat on the floor in a circle to recap the meaning and importance of empathy. “It’s the idea of taking ‘walking in someone else’s shoes’ and bringing it to life. We all need different things, and empathy is seeing and recognizing that and meeting those needs,” Magness explained.

She expects the series of classes to yield long-term results. “The goal is to help kids build healthy relationships and build resiliency so that as we get older, hopefully we’re modeling for the community what this looks like,” she said. “If we can come at it from a creative lens, it helps them get the message and then take it home.”

Did you know? Nearly two dozen Family Resource Centers and Youth Service Centers in Fayette County Public Schools received the two-year GEER grant. They are using the money for a variety of initiatives, including mental health services, childcare, and home visits with students’ families.


Posted March 24, 2022