With summer in full swing, many families across the country would normally be enjoying warmer weather and quality family time, while gearing up for the back-to-school season and all the chaos that comes with the start of the school year.
But as we all know, 2020 is not a normal year, this has not been a normal summer, and the back to school season will also be far from normal, particularly for at-risk students and the Latinx community.
With COVID-19 cases surging across the country and deaths on the rise in various states and counties, it’s clear that we as a nation have not beaten this deadly virus. And while everyone, from medical experts to business owners to politicians, is trying to protect their loved ones and grapple with the impact this virus has had on our world, parents are left with their own dose of concerns and complicated choices.
Should schools open, or is it unsafe for students and teachers? Should kids go back to in-person learning, or are the risks to their wellness and long-term health too great? Is it even possible to safely reopen schools, especially in communities where the coronavirus is still rapidly spreading from person to person? And let’s not forget about the hazards of virtual learning and the potentially damaging mental and emotional impact that distance learning can have on our youth, especially in vulnerable communities.
With the coronavirus on track to become one of the leading causes of death in the U.S., it’s safe to say there is a lot for people of all ranks to consider ─from parents to teachers, to administrators, to local leaders and everyone in between.
The debate over schooling in the face of a global pandemic is a difficult issue for many parents and kids. But it’s important to recognize that not all families and not all communities even have a choice. This so-called “choice” is a luxury afforded to privileged communities. In contrast, at-risk youth and Latinx communities suffer significant setbacks as the result of disrupted educational systems this fall.
Students Across the Country Suffered Due to COVID-19
It’s no secret that education took a hard hit as a result of COVID-19. But the effects on the educational sector run deeper than just canceled in-person classes and missed after-school activities, especially for the most vulnerable communities, such as Hispanic and Latino communities, who are at an elevated risk of getting COVID-19 or experiencing severe illness, regardless of age.
According to the CDC, Hispanic or Latino persons have a rate approximately four times that of non-Hispanic white persons. And the death rate is higher for Latino communities as well. At a recent town hall sponsored by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and Univision News, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said that “twenty-five percent of the deaths from coronavirus have been Latinos, although Latinos are 18% of the population.”
And the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 goes far beyond health factors — it is also significantly amplifying achievement disparities across income levels and between white students and students of black and Hispanic heritage.
A recent report by McKinsey & Company predicts that “school shutdowns could not only cause disproportionate learning losses for these students — compounding existing gaps — but also lead more of them to drop out. This could have wider implications on these children’s long-term economic well-being and the U.S. economy as a whole.”
Latinos for Education Effort to Protecting Latinx Students
Latinos for Education, a national nonprofit dedicated to placing Latino leaders into positions of influence throughout the education sector, is working tirelessly to ensure that as school districts around the country finalize their reopening plans for the upcoming school year, while considering the unique needs of Latinx teachers and students.
Latinos currently make up 25% of school children and will become a third of the U.S. population by 2050. Yet, educational equity is still out of reach for 5.4 million Latino students. This is why this ogranization leads a coalition of Latino education leaders to increase access and more equitable pathways for Latino children, especially during these troubling, unstable times when equal access to quality education is at risk.
As families across the country wait with bated breath to learn about their children’s educational future and schooling options due to the persistent risk of COVID-19, we decided it was time to not only look back at the impact of the pandemic on schooling this past spring but also look forward.
We recently sat down with the Latino for Education’s CEO and co-founder, Amanda Fernandez, to find out what the most significant impact was and how Latinx students can come out of this ordeal stronger than ever before.
What unique challenges have Latinx students been facing?
Access to technology is one of the biggest issues that existed before the global pandemic, and with the shift to remote learning nationwide, the digital divide has only been exacerbated. Many Latinx students don’t have access to a computer or broadband internet at home. While programs have been rolled out in many communities to provide access to laptops and Wi-Fi has been made accessible in some instances, the programs have not always been successful in practice. We’ve heard stories about students doing schoolwork in the parking lots of fast-food restaurants and other public places due to the lack of internet at home, as an example. In addition to putting stress on their learning, it also puts stress on their well-being. Parents and students that don’t speak English also face an additional challenge. In many instances, there has been a lack of relevant information being made available in Spanish, and not all parents are able to assist students due to language barriers. It’s also important to note that the curriculum for English Language Learners (ELL) is not as accessible and in many cases unavailable.
What are Latinx educators saying has been the biggest challenge during school closures?
In addition to access to technology and the internet, Latinx educators in our network have noted income insecurity has led many older students to prioritize working over their schoolwork. For other students, parents are essential workers and not home to assist with school. This was particularly true for undocumented families who were not eligible for government aid in many parts of the country. Educators also expressed their own challenges and hardships. In response, Latinos for Education created the Con Ganas Emergency Relief Fund for those Latinx educators that have lost their jobs and are the primary financial provider in their family or have undocumented family members affected by COVID-19 but unable to access federal aid.
As school districts begin to finalize their reopening plans, what are some solutions you see?
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. School districts and superintendents must take into account the needs of parents and vulnerable students that have been most affected. We need to ensure that parents receive timely information in their native language. State government officials and the business community should also be considering solutions for working parents if we are unable to return to school buildings in the fall or a hybrid school model goes into effect. Employers must be sensitive and responsive to the needs of working parents to be home to assist their children with virtual learning or to have access to childcare.
First, Parents, students, and educators must all be equipped to participate in distance learning. There will need to be guidance and training for all. In addition, the focus of our work at Latinos for Education is increasing diverse teacher representation. This current time of uncertainty highlights the need for diverse educators that understand our community’s unique needs, culture, and language so that students have educators they can trust and relate to. We also need to focus on socio-emotional learning and resources. Schools can play an important role in the lives of children and not having that physical space available to them makes it necessary to provide them access to emotional and mental support virtually. We need to ensure that our teachers receive training and have the tools to support their students outside of the classroom or that schools are working with non-profits in partnership to provide services and supports that a school may not be equipped to provide.
What do Latinx teachers need before returning to school in the fall? Many teachers we’ve spoken to would like to know how to assess potential learning loss students experienced with the school closures, specifically those vulnerable students, many of which are Latinx.
One of the ways Latinos for Education created a national dialogue and resource for teachers was by launching EdCentro, a national platform that is providing virtual training to educators and education leaders across the country focused on the needs of Latino students, teachers and families, at the beginning of the global pandemic.