Equity in Education in the Time of COVID-19: Two Local Perspectives

Artishia Hunter, Senior Education Associate at BPI, recently had the pleasure of interviewing an educator and a parent in the Altgeld-Riverdale community. While equity in education was the focus of our interviews, these individuals also speak to how families are struggling with a myriad of inequities like economic, food, and housing insecurity exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Teachers have seen firsthand  the impact COVID-19 has had on education and on equity in education. They have had a front row seat to the challenges families are facing during this time. Sonja Dickerson, a PreK teacher at Aldridge Elementary School, is part of our PreK-to-K Transitions team and works directly with families in the community.  Teachers like Ms. Dickerson are navigating this new normal with families while trying to maintain a level of continuity for students through daily learning experiences. Her perspective is significant because teachers are able to gauge how children are adjusting to remote learning and help maintain some normalcy for young children whose lives have been abruptly disrupted due to the pandemic.

In times of national crisis, disinvested communities are often hit hardest. Teachers are able to serve as a bridge to help connect families to resources, resources that are often few and far between in communities like Altgeld.  Teachers like Ms. Dickerson are also using this time to engage students and parents in new ways.  As she explains in the video, the most challenging part of the transition to remote learning was trying to take what she does in the classroom and transfer it over to the parents.  “We know that parents are the first teachers a child has,” Ms. Dickerson says. “How can I transfer my professional knowledge to them so that the learning stays authentic and engaging for their children?”  Hear more in her interview:

We were also delighted to interview Ethiah Williams, a parent of a preschooler, an Altgeld resident, and key partner in our Early Learning Coalition. As parents have assumed an even greater role in providing daily learning and support to their children, their lives have completely shifted as a result of COVID-19. Ms. Williams, like many other parents, has had to adapt her full-time work schedule around supporting her children with schoolwork. Her perspective is critical to highlight because families with school-age children can best tell their stories about the ways this pandemic has impacted their lives.

Computers  have been an integral tool  for children to connect to school and learning, but limited access to technology has magnified the equity divide across Chicago. Chicago Public Schools distributed 100,000 iPads and Chromebooks in an effort to bridge the digital divide, with priority given to families with the most significant needs.  Devices alone can’t fully bridge the digital divide: at one point during the interview, Ms. Williams’ internet went out, a situation she says occurs regularly.  However, Ms. Williams states, “The way CPS responded to underprivileged communities was really good, you know. I truly applaud the way that they did respond and to make sure that you know eventually those communities were able to get what they needed.” Hear more in her interview:

The Altgeld-Riverdale Early Learning Coalition (ARELC) continues to work with community partners to coordinate efforts to respond to various needs in the community. The Coalition is partnering with Illinois Action for Children (IAFC) to provide emergency funding for families of young children (PreK-3rd grade) who are experiencing barriers to preschool enrollment and retention, and issues related to COVID-19. We share resources and information through our community-based website The Community Beat.

The last three months have reinforced the importance of applying an equity lens to all of our work.  Communities like Altgeld-Riverdale have been hit hard by COVID-19, and as a Coalition, we will work to amplify voices in the community and continue our commitment to equity for young children in the Altgeld-Riverdale community.

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