“Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” —Horace Mann, father of the Common School Movement
The COVID-19 pandemic reveals what many of us already know. As schools close across our nation, it becomes more and more apparent how dependent our families and communities are on schools. Schools are not simply part of the community—they actively constitute it. Schools in our society are not only a place of learning, but a hub for their communities. The professionals who work in our schools every day are not only delivering high quality instruction but are also meeting the social and emotional needs not just of students but, at times, the entire family. Schools and community partners are actively working each day to combat the food insecurity that many families and communities are facing. So, in times such as these, we are all viscerally reminded of how vital our schools are to each and every community across our nation.
Over the last two weeks I have spoken to colleagues across the country who are working endless hours to assemble learning experiences for students to complete at home. In partnership with their communities and their child nutrition staff, they are developing food drop-off locations to ensure that their students are getting the two hot meals a day that hundreds of thousands of them count on each day at school. School districts are considering how school sites can become childcare facilities so that many of our frontline workers in the healthcare industry and public service sector can be at work serving their communities. The point is: schools are the fabric of a community and so much of what they provide goes unnoticed daily.
School closures also reveal significant inequities of access in our communities. Access to food, access to resources, and access to Wi-Fi in homes are all inequities that our educators face during this crisis as they try to meet these needs creatively. While many districts during this pandemic have created a structure for distance learning, the reality is that all students across this country do not have equitable access to technology resources and in-home Wi-Fi. In some communities, teachers are interacting with their students virtually through video recorded lessons, digital assignments and online tutorial sessions. In other areas of our communities, teachers put together engaging packets of work and projects to complete at home. Because of access inequities, some students can continue learning new content, while others will be reviewing and practicing previously learned skills. Both are important, but they are not the same.
I am so grateful for the tireless efforts of our teachers, school administrators, district administrators, school boards and support staff. These are uncharted waters and during this time our school system leaders need our support and our engagement. Having served students in public schools for 20+ years and now serving schools across the Southeast in my role at Certica Solutions, I have spent my life in a front row seat watching the sacrifice and commitment of educators across this country.
It’s important that as we work through this life-altering pandemic, we understand this is a call to action to further investigate our roles as companies and as a greater society in eliminating the inequity of access that persists across our communities. I can assure you that our schools are doing their part and they need the help of government, community leaders and educational partners to complete the mission.
“Let us not be content to wait and see what will happen but give us the determination to make the right things happen.” —Horace Mann