What School Leaders Can Learn from COVID-19 and Why We Are Now Better Prepared for the Future
August 20th, 2020
It is impossible not to acknowledge the significant challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past several months. Still, Bell Hooks’ comment on finding the light in the darkness reminds us to persevere, reflect, learn, and grow.
For educators and school administrators whose personal lives and instruction modalities have been radically altered seemingly overnight, we owe it to our students to learn from these challenging times and use that knowledge to strengthen our academic methodologies. What follows are three positive lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis that can help reshape the future of education.
The Availability of Distance Learning
Video conferencing technology has been available and accessible for years, yet when faced with quarantine realities, suddenly, physically distanced families and friends were embracing such technology as if it were a novelty. The same can be said for educators. Now that districts and their faculty are learning how to leverage tools such as Zoom, Google Classroom, and Blackboard, their skill development is opening up new opportunities for continued education. Perhaps soon, snow days will become distanced learning days, and students that need a prolonged separation from their classroom due to injury or illness can continue taking part in asynchronous learning.
With 30 percent of higher education students taking at least one distance learning course, it is not inconceivable that the lure of online instruction might appeal to younger students as well. Not only does it offer convenience and consistency for students who are physically unable to attend classes in person, but it might also break down location-based logistical barriers to quality education.
For example, for students that choose a technical or vocational education track, distance learning can help connect qualified instructors to students in rural or underserved communities that otherwise struggle to connect students to educators. Further, distanced learning can also better accommodate students in need of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) by enabling teachers to assign self-paced curriculum and associated assignments. At the same time, students benefit from the alleviation of pressure to keep pace with their peers in class.
Childhood Hunger Relief Opportunities to Supplement Before and In-School Meal Programs
As we discussed in this recent blog post, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close their doors, not only did the necessary safety effort separate teachers from students, but it also created a void for millions of students who rely on school-assisted meals. Every day, The National School Lunch Program serves over 30 million children, the School Breakfast Program feeds over 14.7 million children, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program provides meals to yet another 6.1 million students. With school doors closed, millions of children are missing critical access to daily, healthy breakfasts, lunches, and even weekend supplemental meal programs. Exacerbating the issue of hunger in homes across the nation, as of June 3, nearly 40 million Americans had lost their jobs.
For students reliant upon before and after school hunger-relief programs, the loss of such supplemental support would have been devastating if it had not been for the innovation and determination of neighbors, teachers, and hunger relief advocates in communities across the nation. Such grassroots efforts involved:
- Food Pick-up and Delivery Services. Community organizers made it safe and easy for young people reliant on school meals to access the food they need. Public school systems across the nation facilitated healthy meal pick-ups for parents and students in need to obtain free breakfast, lunch, or dinner during the school week.
- Independent Partnerships. Non-profit organizations, big brands, and other organizations created programs and collaborations to address critical areas of food insecurity in high-risk areas.
- Food Pantries. During the COVID-19 pandemic, food pantries across the nation have expanded their efforts to accommodate children and families struggling without the assistance of weekday school meals.
- Extending Support for Summer School Meal Programs. As of May 12, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives introduced The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which includes $3 billion to support school nutrition programs and a fifteen percent increase in the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for families. The bill aims to continue helping families suffering financially as unemployment and food insecurity rates remain at critical levels.
What these opportunities, partnerships, and programs prove is that there is awareness of the need for childhood hunger relief among government leaders, private entities, and community members. These efforts give school leaders hope that they can continue to sustain heightened levels of supplemental hunger assistance for students over the next several weeks, months, or even years as households work to recover financially from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recognizing and Bridging the Digital Divide
When schools were forced to send students home to continue their education for an undetermined period, in many districts, leaders identified remote learning and online education technology as viable solutions to maintain academic continuity. Quickly, however, faculty and staff in many communities realized that the digital divide was creating barriers to equitable education experiences and disproportionately affecting economically disadvantaged students.
As we discussed in this blog post, equity in education means making sure that every student has the support they need to be successful. According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a division of the United States Department of Commerce, 14 percent of U.S. households with school-age children do not have access to the Internet. Most of those households are in rural areas and make less than $50,000 annually. Many with Internet access do not have a broadband connection. According to the Pew Research Center, 17 percent of adults are only able to access the Internet from a smartphone.
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, districts across the nation have found innovative ways to support students who do not have access to modern technology to help ensure that social distancing does not create detrimental gaps in student academic progress, such as:
- Home-Issued Technology. To connect students to their teachers and enable digital learning, many schools across the nation raced to provide students with affordable laptops and mobile hotspot devices. Some districts are procuring such devices through grants and loan programs, while others were able to identify internal funding sources
- Mobile Hotspots on Wheels. As a creative alternative to issuing students individual mobile hotspots, some districts are sending Wi-Fi-enabled school busses to park in easily accessible common areas in local parks or YMCA parking lots. Students are encouraged to hop aboard, connect, and learn.
- The Keep Americans Connected Pledge. Thanks to the Federal Communications Commission’s “Keep Americans Connected” pledge issued on March 13, many Internet Service Providers (ISP) are waiving late fees for existing customers and increasing data caps for mobile hotspots. The efforts aim to help alleviate the financial burden on families using smartphones to link school-issued laptops to the Internet so that students can engage in online classes and complete work.
While it may not seem possible to suppose that anything positive could come from a global crisis, COVID-19 and the realities of its social distancing requirements have shed light on the critical need for the proliferation of equitable technology access. With this knowledge, leaders in both the education and technology industries are finding ways to eliminate barriers to student success caused by the digital divide—which will only support long-term academic advancements for students of all socioeconomic statuses.
Finding the Opportunity in the Chaos
The most successful leaders will say that some of the most important lessons they learned about perseverance came from their darkest moments. The COVID-19 pandemic has cost our nation and the world the loss of too many loved ones, career opportunities, and in-person time spent with family and friends. Let’s decide to find opportunity in the chaos and use what we have learned to better guard against future disruptions—no matter what challenges we might face next. We are all in this together.