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Video and Highlights – Going Back to School: COVID and Education Equity

On Wednesday, the Washington State Wire and City Year Seattle-King co-hosted a virtual conversation about COVID-19 and Education Equity.

The conversation centered around what to expect as schools re-open this fall; from the logistics of going back to school to the implications for equity in education, to what policymakers should know about education in the era of COVID-19.

The panelists were Denise Juneau (Superintendent, Seattle Public Schools), Sofia Voz (National Director of Staff & Learning Practice, City Year), Lesley Hernandez (City Year AmeriCorps Member and Team Leader, Concord International Elementary School).

Juneau provided an update on the evolution of Seattle Public School plans for the fall, as well as the “pivot” the district made to meet community needs during the pandemic

“Our initial plan, given the social distancing and requirements around the public health advice, was going to allow us to bring students back two times a week, at least. And then maybe in the earlier grades, K-2, maybe four times a week. Now, with the spike in the infection rate that keeps trending upward, it became clear that we would have to start the year in a remote setting.”

SPS’s plans concerning where students would attend school were not the only the plans that underwent a shift, Juneau said.

“As we closed last March and made that pivot to the emergency education setting, we really wanted to make sure that we were taking care of our communities, taking care of our students and their families; so we really switched to basic need mode. We’ve served over a million meals across the city. Our educators did a huge lift of doing business differently and having to engage in an online setting.” said Juneau. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons through that closure. We know that we have to have clear systems set up going into September, so we have common platforms and commons ways of communicating with families and students. Every student has an email address so the communication can be a little more direct between teacher and student. We are going to have more live teaching, we created a lot of videos, we have a lot of hard copy learning packets, we’re switching to a more consistent online schedule…so there will be better systems set up. That is the plan that we will present to the school board in a week.”

Education equity was a prevailing theme throughout the evening. Voz spoke about how SPS compares to other school districts in the country on education equity.

It’s not hidden here in Seattle that we have a large gap when it comes to how our Black and Brown students are doing compared to our white students – at least when we’re looking at really traditional markers of what that looks like. I would say that’s true across the country…I do consider us to be lucky in the ways in which our district partners to center students and to center equity. When I think about City Year Seattle for example, we put out a statement a few years ago around wanting to work towards becoming a more anti-racist organization. I think one of the only reasons we were able to do that is we were in a system that was aligned with us in a lot of ways around striving for that goal. For example, there are racial equity teams at almost all of Seattle Public Schools…One thing that surprised me is how unique that model is when talking to my peers around the country,” said Voz.

Hernandez – whose Americorps post is at Concord International Elementary School in South Park – sounded off on what people should know about the experience of students at diverse educational institutions during the pandemic.

In the South Park community, there is really a sense of support, a feel of ‘I got you.’ Before the school year ended we had a school meeting and a member of the PTA was able to come share what they were doing to support students and families. One thing I really admired they shared was that they were helping families financially because that can be a burden and a worry on top of everything else that families have to worry about…At the end of the day it’s the people who come together to support each other. I know it’s very idealistic to think that love makes the world go round. But, honestly, love can make moves,” said Hernandez.

The conversation also touched on questions related to what state policymakers should be thinking about in terms of education and the budget, the intersection between broadband access and education, approaches educators should take to meet the needs of diverse student bodies, and more.

Watch the entire conversation, here.

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