Coping In Crisis: Helping Kids and Caregivers Manage Emotions

Tonia Casarin, Brazil ’19, founder of Fireworks Education, is helping children and caregivers around the world confront the trauma caused by two crisis: the Syrian conflict and the COVID-19 pandemic.

While on fellowship in the U.S., Casarin met with representatives from Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind the beloved children’s program “Sesame Street.” Since that initial meeting, she has worked with Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to develop curriculum for 52 episodes of “Ahlan Simsim,” a television program that teaches children to understand and manage their emotions.  The Arabic and Kurdish-language program airs in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.

With children accounting for more than half of the 12 million people displaced by the Syrian conflict, there is a desperate need for coping skills to understand and manage emotions. Using Casarin’s curriculum, the IRC trains volunteers from local communities to teach parents how to use play as part of early learning. Learning essential social and emotional skills, along with reading and math skills, helps children control their emotions and resolve conflict. It also helps them persevere through times of crisis.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sesame Workshop once again contacted Casarin to help children and caregivers understand and manage their emotions. Casarin is developing digital content for Caring for Each Other, a new Sesame Street platform that helps families cope with the health crisis. Casarin sees this platform as an opportunity to reach a broader audience and help children in crisis all over the globe. Sesame Workshop plans to make her content available the United States, Latin America, Europe, India and South Africa.

An author of ten books, including the bestselling children’s title “I Have Monsters in My Tummy,” Casarin’s one meeting with Sesame Workshop during her Eisenhower Fellowship has become an ongoing partnership. “I love to see the little things I do have a big impact,” says Casarin.    


Providing access to quality education

United States

Susan Patrick (USA ’16) is the president and chief executive officer of the  International Association for K – 12 Online Learning (iNACOL) based in Washington, D.C. She traveled to New Zealand and France in a quest to examine and compare leading educational systems in economically developed countries with the United States in terms of how education innovation and policy support for future-focused learning. She came away with so much more, including a bolder vision for education transformation in the United States.

While on fellowship, Patrick confirmed her belief that the first order of business is examining how to create equitable, high-quality and effective educational systems. Her notion of innovation expands beyond technology to include contemporary and student-centered learning methodologies. She saw that education systems are redefining what student success looks like, and this deeply involves the community in crafting educational goals to address complex global issues with social, racial and economic disparities.

Immediately after the fellowship, she was inspired to grow the research arm of iNACOL to deepen the understanding of global systems best practices with American policymakers. The research and advocacy work provides access to examples of successful education models from all over the world.

Patrick says that the challenge for change in the U.S. is massive given the scope and scale of the country — 50 states that set policies and local control in 13,600 school districts. The fact that federal policy is limited in its role (due to the omission in the U.S. Constitution) means the states are leading the way, with innovative districts, to drive transformation for the education system. To scale transformation in a just and equitable way is one of our biggest challenges, according to Patrick.

Despite the massive task ahead of her, Patrick has found great success in developing partnerships at the state level. Using her knowledge and experiences from the Eisenhower Fellowship, Patrick and her organization are leading work for education innovation in more than 38 states. Arkansas and New Mexico are two states where she saw the immediate effects of her fellowship journey.

In Arkansas, her presentation to a group of school district leaders, state representatives, and philanthropists led to a sponsored learning trip to New Zealand, a country with a national literacy rate of 99%. Sponsors sent local practitioners, educators, foundation staff and state administrators to learn from site visits with innovative schools in New Zealand, the Ministry of Education in New Zealand and non-profit partners like Core Education. The outcome of the trip was the development of an Office of Innovation at the Arkansas Department of Education, now housed at the University of Arkansas. For many practitioners from Arkansas, it was their first trip experiencing education models outside of the United States.

Her experiences in New Zealand also influenced her work in New Mexico, a state that is committed to addressing opportunity and achievement gaps through youth development and the dismantling of systemic inequity. New Zealand strongly supports and empowers its indigenous populations. Their focus on competency-based learning and initiatives that improve the transition from school to further study, work or training are particularly effective. They also provide a wider range of learning opportunities and make better use of the education network. Notably, New Zealand schools deeply involve community and rely on local wisdom to drive reciprocal accountability, which Patrick believes is an approach that could have significant implications for new education models and solutions to support youth, schools, communities and the future health and prosperity of citizens in the United States.

Patrick has partnered with Eisenhower Fellow Rhonda Broussard (USA ’14), to share knowledge and practices. Their virtual conversation can be found on Broussard’s blog, where the two dialog about current assumptions of the U.S. education system. The pair shares a strong commitment to supporting advancements in our public education system with a focus on equity and student agency. Innovations for equity are sorely needed if the U.S. as a whole wants to improve its overall outcomes in education and equality, which according to Patrick, have a long way to go.


susan patrick