Dr. Ericka Johnson-Allen
Exposed by COVID-19: 5 Inequities in Education
As a superintendent who supports several schools in both rural and urban communities, I can say COVID-19 changed the game. Unfortunately, education leaders were not prepared for exposure and it shows. This pandemic has given the world a backstage pass, exposing disparities that affect one of our most vulnerable yet valuable populations, children. Now let's take a deeper dive into how COVID-19 has exposed inequities in education during 2020, by examining truths and possible solutions.
1. Exposed: The Have and Have Nots (Technology)
Truth: Servers nor schools were equipped to ensure education for all during a worldwide pandemic. The truth is you either have a reliable mobile device, laptop, desktop computer, or you have not. You either have a reliable network connection and a quiet place to engage in learning or you have not. The unfortunate lesson learned is access is dependent on zip code. If equitable access to education is not provided for all, we will have more at risk than ever before.
Solution: Like water and electricity, make internet service accessible to all. I argue that reliable internet service is a basic need...no matter where a child lives. Internet service providers and elected officials must invest in infrastructure in marginalized communities.
2. Exposed: Food Insecurities
Truth: Food insecurities impacted 23% of U.S. households in 2020. COVID-19 diminished opportunities for children to access consistent, healthy food. While schools have tried to meet the needs of families by supplying meals by the week, delivering food via bus routes, and other creative measures to ensure students don’t go hungry, it has not been enough.
Solution: Schools should continue to provide bulk meals to families every week, even to those who are attending face-to-face instruction. We can also teach children and families how to create and sustain food cooperatives in their communities. I suggest funding school and community gardens in every economically disadvantaged neighborhood. This would allow students and families to learn and value nutrition, create a viable food supply, and contribute to more opportunities for academic success.
3. Exposed: Lack of Social-Emotional Support
Truth: Students are encountering traumatic experiences through physical injury, natural disasters, family violence, and poverty more than ever during COVID-19. Children need assistance with more than academic interventions, and food on the weekends, they need emotional support. Social-emotional health is a litmus test for mental well-being. Whether referring to curriculum, learning, or health, the concept of “social-emotional” is significant in educating the whole child.
Solution: Every school, no matter what the economic status of its student population, should be taking a deeper dive into the whole-child approach. The whole-child approach is founded upon using policies, practices, and relationships to ensure each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. It is difficult to know if a child has experienced a traumatic experience. This can only be uncovered through relational dialogue. I suggest conversation huddles, a secure, structured time to chat with peers, and teachers in a safe, non-threatening environment. It only takes 10-20 minutes a day.
4. Exposed: The Broken Relationship between Home, School, and the Community
Truth: There are 3 fundamental practices when creating powerful partnerships with families: 1) a phone call, 2) a home visit, and 3) an invitation into the classroom. School leaders are missing the mark when it comes to building bridges to connect parents, teachers, and the local community.
Solution: Frequent communication with parents via phone calls, social media, home visits, and open classrooms is crucial, especially during this pandemic. I am pleading with school leaders to encourage or flat out mandate parent contact via phone calls and home visits. This one-touch could be the beginning of a child’s transformation.
Social media is a powerful tool to build relationships through consistent communication and feedback between the school and the community. Educators should attempt to communicate using the platforms of today, not the communication paths of the past.
Take schools inside the homes of families. There is nothing more life-changing and impactful for a teacher and a principal than to see where and how students live. Home visits build positive relationships with parents, resulting in better learning experiences for students.
Inviting parents into schools builds trust and parental support. While COVID-19 may not permit parent visits inside of schools and classrooms, parents should be invited virtually to share in the learning experience. I encourage leaders to arrange virtual parent nights, virtual parent conferences, and virtual school programs to engage parents.
Ask for help! Let families and community leaders know the needs of your school. Post requests on social media, tap into community resources, make the vision for your school known. Invite community members to a virtual town hall meeting. Schools can not do this work alone.
5. Exposed: The Importance of a Teacher
Truth: COVID-19 gave us a terrifying glimpse into a teacherless world. Teachers are the most important component of schools and they should be valued. Many are dealing with elements of trauma, mental strain, and more. Yet, teachers have been steadfast in their efforts to “hang in there” because of their mission-oriented core.
Solution: Lead with empathy. Empathy is the idea of understanding the needs of others even though you may not have those same needs. Empathetic leaders make decisions based on the needs of those they serve. Teachers need encouragement, sufficient resources, effective technology, and support from their leaders. They should be provided the opportunity to participate in social-emotional health checks just as students, because “hurt people hurt people”
Although COVID-19 has been equal, it has not been equitable. This pandemic has exposed many deficits: the limited amount of food many families have, the difficulty of living paycheck to paycheck, medical injustices, instabilities in our economy, political unrest, police brutality, and racism. Even more, COVID-19 exposed the lack of opportunity and access to an equitable education. Now let’s do something about it. #ImagineThat!
Dr. Ericka Johnson-Allen is renowned for her unparalleled work in leadership and school transformation. Known for her Imagine That School Transformation Model she consistently produces double-digit student growth in 1 year. Dr. EJA currently serves as a superintendent for ResponsiveEd where she oversees nearly 20 schools throughout Texas, and CEO and Founder of Imagine That Consulting. She is co-host of Vulnerable Voices, a weekly podcast where she has real conversations with real leaders, about issues in the Black community.
Comments or Questions? Want to share your educational experience with COVID? I cordially invited you to reach out! All respectful, on-topic comments are welcome.