from Genesee Hill Equity Chair, Kristen Corning Bedford
What are our kids going to learn this year? From one parent I hear this question with an exasperated tone, frustrated and stressed. And from another I hear the same question, no less stressed and frustrated, but with an added tinge of hope and possibility. What could our children learn this year?
The stress of what parents are managing as we approach the Fall cannot be overstated. A friend of mine, who is a therapist, recently told me that out of all her patients, parents are doing the worst. It’s a lot. And within the stress and strain there are multitudes: some parents are losing jobs, others are working overtime. Regardless of the situation, no one is able to provide their children with what they receive at school. And some children are further from educational justice, lacking also the safety and nutrition that school may provide.
I’ve been reflecting on the idea of just calling it this year – suggesting that perhaps we could just give everyone across the nation a pass, all work together on a common project and regroup at the start of school 2021. The children would be ok educationally, because we’d all be taking this skip year together. But this doesn’t solve the very real crisis of childcare, which is where our systems are really breaking down and where we’re seeing the fault lines of a society that does not value Black, Brown and Indigenous lives, and severely undervalues female labor and caretaking.
Here’s what I can say with certainty, after six years as a parent at Genesee Hill, serving as both the parent representative on the Building Leadership Team and co-chairing the Family Committee for Equity and Inclusion for the last two: this is a staff that is doing incredible work, both in community building and in professional development, in order to support and educate our children. Not just in reading and math, but in how to be compassionate, engaged leaders with critical thinking skills.
And when we’re asking ourselves, what is my child going to learn this year, the number one thing on everyone’s mind are the formation of educational pods. Families are frantically trying to make sense of this time and figure out how to support themselves and each other when the systems are failing them. We cannot judge people for doing what they need to do to survive. But we owe it to our community to ask what’s equitable. How do we survive the coming Fall, when we’ll be expected to carry on with our jobs while also supporting our kids’ education, all while sitting together at the kitchen table? How do we focus support on the most vulnerable, not the most inconvenienced? How do we use our privilege to create change for others as well as ourselves?
If you’re mad, you should be! If you’re frustrated and scared, now is the time to channel that energy into making the system better. This must be a community effort, pushing our district and government leaders for greater clarity and innovative solutions for a new future. Here’s how you can use your voice to make a difference:
First, if you’re considering forming a pod with other families, we ask that you focus on childcare and socialization instead of curriculum. Childcare is something everyone is seeking, but providing educational advantages contributes to a widening educational gap. Ask yourself, who is getting left behind? Pandemic pods and withdrawing students from SPS highlight the growing inequities surfacing during Covid19. Because enrollment and attendance are central to determining funding for public schools, withdrawing your student further diminishes public schools’ ability to serve the most marginalized students and keep staff employed.
There is no single solution that will work for all, but we can be informed in our approach and intentional in our application. Integrated Solutions offers a great article that includes a list of questions to ask ourselves, which include the following that I’ve been focused on for my family:
- Am I clear on what is a need and what is a desire?
- Instead of thinking “how can I make sure my (privileged) kid doesn’t fall behind?” – can I ask myself, “how can I help to strengthen the public institutions we all depend on?”
- Have I searched for local organizations (particularly those run by BIPOC) who are pushing for equitable approaches to these current situations and can I join with them?
Genesee Hill also has a robust grade level cohort model that is set up to support families in connecting with and supporting each other. If you’d like to figure out ways to ensure all families at our school are getting the support they need, you can reach out to our Cohort Leader at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Second, join the PTA and the Family Committee for Equity and Inclusion. We need more people showing up with diverse perspectives, to ensure we’re hearing from everyone and establishing norms not dependent on the dominant culture. How we hold meetings, choose leaders, listen and respond are all part of the evolution happening across institutions and industries. As a community of passionate parents and caregivers, we must link our individual school efforts to district wide efforts, in order to create equitable educational opportunity.
Third, contact the City Council, the School Board, and the School District. Tell them what you expect from them in supporting a more just response to the pandemic, and that there are changes you would like to see put into continued practice, like reducing testing and implementing ethnic studies. This blog post and letter, both prepared by educational researchers, outline actions to urge policymakers to take. (They come from the following document, A Guide to Equity in Pandemic Schooling by Dr. Erica Turner.) You can also learn more about how to support systemic change by reaching out to our PTA Legislative Chair, email@example.com.
What our children could learn this year is much greater than what they’d typically get in a year of gradeschool. They could learn resiliency and community. They could witness the beauty of slowing down and appreciating what they have – that what we need to learn is often much simpler and often not proven out by test scores. They could learn that they are part of a system and that they have the power to change that system. All education happens in relationship, teacher to student, parent to child, friend to friend. Perhaps our kids could learn that the adults, working together, ensured they were taken care of, while being given the opportunity to witness the possibilities that emerge from complexity and chaos.
While the above reflects my personal opinion, I’ve posted here as a representative of the Genesee Hill Family Committee for Equity and Inclusion and PTA. Please feel free to send comments or questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org All dialogue is welcome.