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  • Chandlor Henderson

Fighting for the Soul of Education

Written by Debra Vinson, MA, BCPC, Former School Board Trustee

Edited by April Ussam- Lemmons

Public Education is in a Fight for its Soul. Predate the pandemic students were failing and falling behind in their classes and some were failing completely. Many students feel that they cannot catch up with academic learning due to high anxiety, fear about the pandemic, worry about how it will impact their families and unwillingness to engage on camera during zoom lessons because it is boring for them and they miss the human connection of their peers. Unfortunately, the current option of Zoom lessons has not been well received by some students nor has it maintained their interest and transitional resources has been haphazard for special needs students. The lack of instructional support to successfully navigate the Zoom lesson academic program is the primary culprit for some students’ academic failure. This can be attributed to the oversight made by many School Districts when it comes to full-time at home instructional preparedness. There are many CA School Districts in this category.

It is a fact that our state is a wildfire hotspot and prone to occasional seismic hazards; CA having seen some of the worst wildfires in our country’s history. These wildfires have caused school closures, from days to sometimes weeks. This catastrophe should have been an obvious warning for School Districts to re-evaluate their remote instructional preparedness. If the evaluation had occurred, CA students would have received their induvial Chromebook or laptop to allow them to continue their courses remotely. Such attentiveness would have provided relevant training for Teachers and Staff so they could properly support their students’ individual needs during remote learning. The consistent practice of ongoing re- evaluation of resources would have granted Teachers and Staff more ways to keep their students engaged while continuing to render educational structure. There are Districts in CA that utilized the hybrid model with efficiency.

The more prepared a school district is in classroom lesson delivery the less anxious students will become and they will come to know what to expect in their online classroom. When students don’t know what to expect in the learning environment and the communication is unclear, the negative impact to students overall learning is staggering. The experience of uncertainty can cause students to lose hope which can lead to depression, loss of interest in their education and high anxiety which may increase the likelihood of self-harm.

A team approach that includes mental health professionals, nurses and teachers that are trained in restorative justice and social emotional cultural skills is the approach needed in the classroom for all students. Local Control Funding Formula and LCAP (Local Control Accountability Plan) was implemented with a focus of 8 priorities in 2013 and LCAP provided millions of dollars to school districts to assist mem in meeting accountability requirements. The requirements are: 1) Student Engagement; 2) Parent Involvement, 3) School Climate, 4) Student Outcomes, 5) Student Achievement, 6) Course Access, 7) Implementation of State Standards, 8) Basic Services. Activating these 8 priorities with evidenced based community resources will help stabilize students successful return to school post pandemic.

Currently, there is no equity in remote and distance learning when the majority of school districts provide free and reduced lunches to over 70% of its students. Many families have not been able to access learning without having consistent Internet and phone services at home. Prior to distance learning teachers were ill prepared to provide long-term learning online. Many school districts failed to plan, have an emergency plan in place or any contingency plan for a disaster such as the one we are living right now with Covid-19. More financial resources will be needed and must be carefully monitored. All CA school districts should be held accountable for how they will manage additional funds to get back on track to restore stability in the learning environment to help students catch up on missed academic learning. Schools may have to return to year-round schedules with robust learning that is engaging and culturally appropriate with a keen focus on school safety and social emotional resources to begin to reverse 16 months of no K12 education.

The negative impact of Covid-19 on the emotional and mental health of students will need to be addressed immediately. Mental Health Professionals that are trauma informed and trauma trained will be needed in the coming months and the next 5 years to assist K12 students in working through their anxiety, fears, loss of relatives and friends due to the pandemic and a host of environmental issues to help students return to a sense of normalcy for the school environment.

The major disruption in learning cannot be ignored and it cannot be business as usual. Shifting how students can return to school with welcoming and friendlier approaches will be needed to help those students that have withdrawn from learning to re-engage. It will be all hands-on deck which means that teachers will need support too so that they don’t become overwhelmed. Parents must be included so that positive parent teacher partnerships can be developed to assist in creating a whole child environment that embraces all aspects of a child’s humanity. Distance learning and zoom classes have become the norm; parents need to engage with their child’s teachers and school district to advocate for their child’s educational right to learn. This same process needs to happen for special needs students.

Never before has there been such a pervasive disruption in education for families in American History since the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Furthermore, the mental health condition of all students is of importance. School Districts can no longer push the social emotional needs of students aside because their emotional state is tantamount to student outcomes and student achievement. Mental health services are necessary because of the long-term isolation that many students have experienced due to Covid-19 and sheltering in place. Traumatic events of loss have occurred in so many families and emotional support will be needed for students and teachers.

Disparities in American Indian, African American and Latin students learning achievement’s pre- pandemic was very alarming with basic benchmarks in math, English, reading and writing skills not being met per the data on the California Data Dashboard. These problems existed pre-pandemic along with a lack of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in School Districts. The absence of connectivity from being with peers has caused students to feel alone and worried about their future. Children need human contact to learn, grow and develop.

How do we learn from this and recognize that the pandemic has brought harsh and varied experiences to each family?

School Districts must become unlatched and flexible and recognize that the experts in our community, the parents, are diverse and have much to offer. It’s time to add more chairs to the table. It’s time for School District and the City Councils to build partnerships based on cultural humility, humanity, safety, community building and hope for our students and families. As a tax paying citizen, I would like to see AUSD and the City Council consider funding and erecting WIFI tower(s) so families in our community can readily have Internet Access.

Decisions leaders make now must have relevance. We can’t keep doing the same thing expecting a different result. The change we want is long overdue and we cannot wait another 5 years because the mis-education of our children deserves immediate redress.

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