During this pandemic, K-12 students comprise one of the most vulnerable groups. Children are reliant on the decision-making skills and empathy of the adults in their orbit. During the spring semester, students generally focus on state-mandated tests, promotions to middle or high school, spring sports, artistic endeavors, and/or the high school graduation and their next steps to adulting, whether college, military service or employment.
Prior to this pause, schools were scrambling to find adequate resources to meet the educational needs of disparate children: English language learners, children with physical and developmental delays, and special education. Educators were attentive to the needs of the kids who rely on the physical and emotional security of the school building. Administrators were waiting for the results of state-mandated tests to determine if they still had jobs.
Schools were ordered to shut down without answers to the myriad economic and social “what ifs” that go along with a decision to shut schools. Boards of Education, superintendents, administrators, principals, and teachers wrestled with setting up e-learning. If teachers were struggling and/or reluctant to embrace the e-learning technology before the pandemic, they could no longer rely on direct instruction. There have been glitches, push back, and grumbling. However, children needed educational resources and support during the pandemic.
Children are falling through the proverbial educational cracks right now. Some of them will need a complete do-over of this school year. Not all children have personal computers or laptops at home. Several children in the same household may share one computer. The adults may not have the knowledge to set up the Zoom equipment or the portal needed to get the signal. And not every household has Wi-Fi. Plus, some households are crowded, and a quiet space to participate in e-learning simply doesn’t exist.
Schools are scrambling to ensure their students are getting fed every day. For the past fifty years, students depended on the educational system to assure them of breakfast and lunch five days a week when school is in session. Some schools with disproportionately low-income students prepare extra meals on Fridays for the kids assuring they have food to tide them over until the next Monday. For the readers who’ve never been food insecure or broke, the idea of a school district providing food every day for kids may be unheard of. For millions of kids, it’s the necessary brain fuel to jumpstart their day and keep them focused on learning instead of their rumbling stomach—school breakfast, lunch, and after school snacks comprise the major parts of their diet. So, in addition to being educational leaders, the leadership team was also tasked with establishing off-site feeding sites and coordinating food service delivery for the most vulnerable students.
What most of us forget is today’s schools feed kids, provide nursing support, counseling, and a myriad of things that use to be handled at home. Since the late sixties, full-service schools have been on the front lines of raising children…and not just in poor neighborhoods. Two-parent families where both parents have jobs that require early starts rely on school breakfast programs, too. School counselors handled sexual abuse, rape, drug counseling in addition to college application and anxiety over failing grades. Afterschool programs provided a snack to complement the breakfast and lunch already provided to kids during the day.
This pandemic might be a time for us to reassess the values and mores of the US where a man or woman can work full time, yet not earn enough money to house, feed and clothe their family. Americans have no idea how families have been devastated in the “new economy” created with low wage jobs and lack of union protection versus bonuses, stock portfolios, and golden parachutes for owners and senior executives. Some elite corporations still pay the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25.
Who do you think is working in these Covid-19 infested plants? College-educated persons are working alongside high school dropouts and senior citizens—all in low wage jobs. It’s a mix of undocumented workers, men and women with families, and seniors trying to supplement Social Security income. There’s an abundance of two-parent families where parents both work full-time, have no health insurance, and bring home a combined income of less than $40,000 per year after taxes. So yes, they rely on the school system’s after school programs, food pantries, and various other public supports to feed their children and provide enrichment activities.
Let’s applaud the educational systems that are stepping up to educate and feed all children during this pandemic.
-Joyce A. Brown
Joyce Brown is a motivational speaker and author who uses her creative energy to give voice and meaning to the challenges women face in all walks of life. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois in a household of strong women. She graduated from Bradley University with a B.S. and M.A. Her professional career expanded her reach into Peoria, Illinois; and Battle Creek, Michigan. Joyce obtained a Ph.D. from Western Michigan University.
She is a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and has served as a direct services worker, executive director, program director for a major foundation, and an entrepreneur. Joyce has experienced many uplifting moments as a professional and as a dedicated parent and strives to bring those events and lessons to life through her characters in contemporary fiction novels she pens.