Navigating Teaching, Learning and Equity During COVID-19

Lifting up success stories from schools, districts and states

Topics: Education Equity, Systems Change

This post was written by Terrance Sullivan, former KnowledgeWorks director of state policy.

We are in unprecedented times. In the abundance of caution, and with the health and welfare of the public in mind, schools around the country have closed. In some instances, these closures are for the rest of the school year, while for others, the duration is unknown.

Though the doors to the schools may be locked, the minds of students and the quest for learning blossom just like the springtime flowers. Possibly sparked by a lack of access to other activities and friends, and running out of shows to stream, there is an opportunity now to engage kids in new and different ways. One large question, however, was how do schools continue to support teaching and learning, and how do they do it in a way that is equitable?

Many schools, districts and states are doing magnificent work to continue learning and address equity issues. They are implementing strategies that allow students to continue to learn, while being mindful of equity challenges that may arise in the process.

That bus is so hot(spot).

In South Carolina, facing the challenge of connectivity for students, especially those in poorer or rural areas of the state, education officials announced plans to start placing hundreds of school buses equipped with Wi-Fi in low-income neighborhoods around the state to serve as mobile hotspots for students. Other states, such as New Hampshire, have been deploying buses in similar ways.

Internet connectivity is important for access to online learning platforms and the ability to keep up with work as teachers and students are unable to meet in person to work on assignments. A department spokesman said buses will be placed in the high poverty and rural areas in easily accessible locations. A number of districts are also sending home paper packets and assigning activities that don’t require internet. The South Carolina Department of Education worked with a local public television station to shift the regular programming three days a week to educational programming for kids.

What about devices?

In Louisville, Kentucky, officials have acknowledged the challenge of internet connectivity. When you have roughly 100,000 students in a community, a large portion of which cannot afford digital devices or internet access, distance learning is a challenge. In Louisville, Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) Superintendent Marty Pollio, EdD, has voiced concern over the exacerbation of equity gaps by the shift to online learning during school closures, and is working to close those gaps.

Because of that equity gap, the district is partnering with schools to compile 25,000 Chromebooks for students to use and access course materials from home. Since many students do not have access to these devices regularly, the district is providing them to houses to enable students to access the district’s online learning platform. Teachers will upload resources and curriculum and be able to interact with students. But JCPS is sure to not leave behind any family; they’re ensuring that every family, including families with learners in special education, gets what they need for equitable accessibility. The district is also working with local internet service providers to ensure that those devices, and all student households, will be able to access internet while schools are not in session. On top of that, the district has set up 67 stationary and mobile sites that have served roughly 15,000 meals a day to students during the shutdowns.

This video shares more about how JCPS is helping connect student families with technology to support learning.

It’s hard to learn on an empty stomach.

Current events are challenging many of our established support systems. Schools are often relied on as a steady source of feeding our children. The School Nutrition Association reports that in the U.S., 22 million of the nearly 30 million students who regularly eat school lunches depend on a free or reduced-price school lunch as a main source of their daily nutrition. With schools closing, communities are necessarily quickly reacting and adjusting.

For Louisville this means mobile food sites. Other cities, like Columbus, Ohio, have designated specific school locations to serve grab-and-go meals. The New York Times reported on the approaches other cities have taken, ranging from closing schools but leaving cafeterias open, partnering with local food banks to fill gaps and setting up stations to pick up sack lunches. Other schools, especially in rural districts, deliver meals with their school buses.

As states and schools face these uncertain times, with little consensus on when classrooms will reopen, highlighting communities that are enabling teaching and learning, while also focusing on education equity, is of the utmost importance.

Leaders from KnowledgeWorks in Schools and Foresight respond about the current landscape in the era of COVID-19 and look to the future of readiness with attention to resilience, empathy and equity.