The last year has been difficult for all of us, no question. But it is somewhat staggering to see how disproportionately difficult it has been for those living in poverty and people of color. In the middle class community that I live in, my own children have the privilege of attending school five days a week, face to face. They are experiencing steady, sometimes exceptional, growth in all areas, and they are having a largely normal educational experience. Their recreational programs have continued for the most part, just with increased safety measures and protocols.
The students I provide services for, however, are having an educational–and life–experience that is the exact opposite of my children. They are receiving no face to face instruction, next to no modifications or accommodations in their instruction, even if they have an IEP, and are either not growing or, in some cases, are actually losing ground academically. Because most of the students and families with whom I work are living in poverty, they are dependent on schools and public programs for their recreational activities, transportation, and food. During this pandemic, they have had nearly every resource they depended on for their mental, physical, and academic health taken away from them. And when we finally return to some form of normal, they will be trying to overcome an even bigger gap between themselves and their peers than the one that previously existed.
As I look beyond the experience of my children and my clients, it seems that I can predict access to face to face instruction and recreational activities from the average income of the people living in a community. The higher the average income, the better the access to face to face schooling, sports, and clubs.
In so many ways, I am incredibly disheartened by these inequities. But there is a small piece of me that feels hopeful. I am hopeful that the way the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the disparities in access to quality education and services based on income will fuel the fire for meaningful, impactful change that will decrease these disparities in the future. I am hopeful that it will set the stage for a new honesty about the way things are and a motivation to deeply explore the things that really work, differentiating them from the things that sound like they will work or worked in a place that looks nothing like our own classrooms. And finally, I am hopeful that it will re-focus the energy, investment, and value we place, moving it from programs, materials, and experts to the diverse, skilled teams that already exist within our school communities.