By Barney Blakeney
For many Black families local school closures in response to the coronavirus pandemic creates challenges surrounding childcare, but the myriad of challenges extend much further.
Yvonne and her daughter have been rotating the responsibility of childcare as they took days off from work to care for Yvonne’s two granddaughters. Yvonne’s job gives her sick leave, her daughter’s job does not. But that challenge is just the tip of the iceberg for many other families.
Michelle Mapp, second-year law student, former CEO of the South Carolina Community Loan Fund, former high school math teacher and mother of two high school students said from an academic standpoint, among other things students will lose is in-person instructional time that allows students to hear other students’ questions and teachers’ the ability to gauge whether students are grasping information. Remote learning also may promote teachers’ focus on assignment completion rather than information retention.
Remote learning presents other challenges for African American students. While it may seem almost everyone has internet access, a shocking number of families lack fast or reliable internet connections.
There are roughly 5 million households with school-age children who don’t have broadband internet access at home. Students without internet can’t connect with teachers or classmates, do independent research, or get online homework help. Among households with an annual income under $50,000, 31.4 percent don’t have broadband internet access. Only 72 percent of Black and Hispanic households with school-age children have high-speed internet access. A lack of reliable, high-speed internet will only make the so-called achievement gap wider. And especially since standardized testing is being foregone, even that often inaccurate assessment tool is lost.
While schools are closed extracurricular activities are suspended for students in their junior and senior years when those activities count heavily in college recruitment. Students enrolled in dual degree programs also will meet challenges, Mapp said.
African American students already experience challenges in a variety of ways, she said. Parents may not be able to help students at home and she emphasized that the stress some parents may feel from employment and increased financial difficulties may influence students. Students’ mental health also should be considered, she said. How school closures will exasperate all that is uncertain, Mapp said.
Optimistically, Mapp offered “We are resilient. We’ve often had to overcome lack of access to resources. Possibly we can move forward successfully,” she said.