Kasserianingera, this is a greeting of the Masai people of Africa, simply translated as, “And how are the children?” Because the Masai place their children’s well-being in high esteem, the response back is always the same for them, “The children are well.”
As I type this from my home office thinking about the ways that we can keep education going for my school system as well as my own children’s school system, I have been thinking, “And how are the children?”
Prince William County schools in Virginia are ensuring that the kids are eating while they are out of school. Whether or not they are on free and reduced lunch, they are providing them with breakfast and lunch. The county schools here are emphasizing the need to not bombard students with cumbersome work and due dates that some of them may not be able to adhere to. Thoughts about equity have prevented my children’s county school from shifting to an online platform.
While the county’s response to COVID-19 has impressed me with the communication and the preparedness, I also am saddened to see the disparities that have been blatantly exposed as a result.
We can discuss education and equity all day and give tips and tools to close gaps, but until we as a nation address the systemic and systematic way that the entire system is set up to ensure that certain people fail and others succeed, then we will not truly get to the root of the problems that plague our students every day.
It should not take a pandemic to ensure that every child has food, or access to internet, or a computer. It should not take a virus for us to hear regularly from the superintendent. We should not have to face a national crisis for us to suddenly place so much emphasis on our students’ social and emotional well-being.
We always knew there were wealth gaps, access gaps and belief gaps, but this situation has shown me that if we can meet those needs during this time, we can meet those needs all the time! If we can cancel statewide tests, can we not make them so high-stakes that they shut out students from their future goals, especially knowing that many of those tests are inherently biased for many of our students.
How are the students?
Many students are scared about an unknown future. As I hugged my daughter this week, trying to assuage her sadness about the fact our governor has canceled schools for the remainder of the year, I realized for many of our children, it has not been okay for a long time. Her temporary concerns are due to this moment in time, but for many other children across this country the kids have not been okay for a long time. They go to bed hungry; they do homework by candlelight; they face abuse and mistreatment only to go to a place where they face a lack of belief and a lack of resources. The uncertainty that my daughter and son have is nothing compared to the uncertainty that 43% of children in low-income families face every day.
I thought about my own childhood, and recall a conversation I had with a colleague a few weeks ago. I explained that unless you have faced poverty, watched your parents make decisions about which bills should be paid, had to boil water on a stove for a hot bath, known the feeling of your stomach being empty, you can never truly understand the trauma and stress over being poor or understand the levels of poverty. All of the kids are not alright.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen. I am hopeful that this season of disease will soon pass. I hope the children will return to schools soon. I can only imagine the concern that the class of 2020 has about their prom, graduation and seeing the friends that many of them may never see again as they prepare for the next stage of their lives.
I hope that when we come out of this dark time, we can be concerned with Kasserianingera, asking each other, “And how are the children?” with the renewed commitment to ensure that we can all respond with, “The children are well.”
Kelisa Wing is the author of "Weeds & Seeds: How To Stay Positive in the Midst of Life’s Storms" and "Promises and Possibilities: Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline" (both available on Amazon). She also is a 2017 State Teacher of the year, speaker, teacher and activist for discipline reform. Kelisa holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Maryland University College, a ...