Working Together To Make Change
By | Ali Larson
There is no question that nearly every facet of society has been impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic. People across the globe have had to not only adapt to new ways of operating, but they’ve also had time to reflect on the old ways. What may have served us in the past, may now seem obsolete. What may have constituted “good enough”, no longer seems to be enough. Education is no different; systems and people have had to adapt, but we have also had time to reflect on what may not have been working all along.
At the heart of this quarter’s issue, we wanted to explore the idea of change. What lessons have we learned from the pandemic within education, and ultimately, who will be making the changes to keep us moving forward? In our November 2020 issue, community members shared at length about the ways in which the pandemic and remote learning impacted their children and schools. As was echoed again in this issue, these voices discussed inequitable learning environments and resources at home, inequitable access to technology and support, a lack of social interaction and mental health supports, difficulty engaging in learning online, etc. We know that many feel existing inequities in our education system were merely exacerbated by pandemic. And yet many families continued to stay in remote learning for the entire duration of the school year, many of which were families of color. What were the changes that kept some families home while others returned to school and how can we learn from them?
As the main article highlights, families have found many ways to thrive despite the uncertainty and rapidly changing environment of schools. Remote learning offered families new flexibility in comparison to a previously inflexible schedule. It offered more time together, less focus on discipline and compliance, and more autonomy. It forced teachers to adapt to new and various learning styles allowing some students to shine who may not have had the chance in previous settings. It allowed for easier and more natural avenues of engagement with the school, no longer requiring parents to have particular schedules or transportation at odd times. And for some, learning (or teaching) at home simply provided a safer, healthier environment to learn. Collectively, it is easy to see why remote learning, despite its challenges, has been very appealing to some of our historically underserved families.
Working in two elementary schools in North Park Hill, I saw firsthand how difficult the pandemic was on the education of our youngest children. Switching to an entirely new platform for learning is hard enough, let alone when you’re too young to read or manage browsers and applications on a computer screen. Parents, children, and teachers were pushed to their limits. Still, we know that many families chose to remain in remote learning, and many will continue to stay remote during this upcoming school year. In my experience, the vast majority of these families have children of color, and I can’t help but wonder if we as a public school system are missing an opportunity to learn from these families and adapt our systems to better meet their needs. If the very children we are aiming to reach are the first ones leaving our buildings, what red flags can we identify within our systems and structures?
Community members in our interviews shared that the voices of students, parents, and teachers should drive the changes and improvements needed to update and adapt our education system to the changing world. As a former aide in the US Senate with a passion for advocacy, I immediately wonder if these stakeholders know how to make their voices heard. This may be an important lesson for us all: who do we reach out to when change is needed?
Two common themes appeared in our interviews: a need for updated, more culturally-responsive curriculum to both better educate and better engage our students, and more support (and pay) for our teachers. These, in conjunction with some of the underlying lessons of remote learning could combine to better serve students and communities. We at the Journal believe when we share our experiences in community, we can explore solutions to issues facing public education while simultaneously growing our public sense of community. Unfortunately, the pandemic has made it difficult to hold our “conversations” around these topics, and we too have had to adapt our information gathering within the communities often tuned out by policy makers. But these voices are important and should be informing the future of our classrooms.
How can we make school a safe place for all of our learners? How can we make school engaging for all of our learners? How can we equip teachers with the skills and tools to allow all learners to thrive? I believe in the powerful voice of community and like others in our main article, I believe that parents, teachers, and students can and should be the voices and instruments of change. Let’s make sure they have the tools to do so.
Ali Larson has a background in politics and education. She has two elementary-aged children in DPS, is active in her community and passionate about equity and justice in education.