Now Is the Time to Reimagine Education for Students of Color

Apr 24, 2020 12:00:00 AM


Everybody’s waiting on the day when things will go back to normal. Not me.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m all the way over COVID-19. Tired of talking about it and tired of living it. I know all Americans feel the same way, especially the people out here protesting shelter in place orders and not practicing social distancing. People want their old lives back but honestly, the old way of life wasn’t working for some of us—mainly us Black and Brown people.

A lot of us live in communities with limited healthcare facilities, sparse healthy food options, nonexistent mental health services, dilapidated schools where some of our kids’ dreams go to die and janky elected officials that lie to us every chance they get. So nah, I can pass on that “normal.”

Instead, I’m thinking about the future and what a new normal could look like, especially for our students, schools and leadership in charge of making decisions on behalf of our families.

[pullquote]This pandemic is exposing some ugly truths about the disparities in education[/pullquote] and how access to resources and opportunities aren’t created equally or equitably.

Y’all have seen me and other activists advocating for students who don’t have access to the internet for weeks. Well, we’re still fighting that fight. 

The other day we held a Twitter rally to get the FCC to concede to our demands because some school districts—Philadelphia’s in particular—have resorted to telling students that can’t get online at home that they’ll have to go sit in their school’s parking lot to hop on that Wi-Fi for e-learning.

This stinks of the most vile B.S. I’ve ever heard or smelled in life. It’s also contradictory to the shelter in place orders and again, a violation of their right to access a public education. 

But sadly, this isn’t surprising or anything new because [pullquote]the poor and families of color have always been told to “just figure it out.”[/pullquote]

And, five weeks into remote learning, only half of Chicago Public School (CPS) students have laptops, which I imagine is also an issue in other districts.

These examples and the overall historical neglect and dismissal of communities of color is why I’m working to build a task force that permanently liaises between CPS and the community to ensure that students in underserved communities have the resources they need to be successful. [pullquote]We can no longer accept school districts thinking they can equitably allocate funding and resources or deliver meaningful curricula without the voices of students and parents.[/pullquote]

Also, some of our kids are carrying the weight of their experiences of living in high-crime, impoverished communities that have caused trauma—trauma that bogs them down and makes it difficult to be engaged and successful in school. Not to mention the added trauma they’ll endure from possibly losing loved ones to the virus or. And, for those who live in abusive or neglectful households, losing access to spaces they considered safe havens. This is why mental health services now and beyond are critical and non-negotiable.

School districts have to incorporate some kind of consistent virtual resources in which students can have outlets to express their feelings and receive tools to cope with what they’re experiencing. [pullquote]Now is the time for us to be pushing for more social workers and mental health professionals for when kids do return to school. [/pullquote]Having 48% of Black students say they don’t feel supported by mental health services is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, we’ve had some teachers pass away from the virus, which has and will create an even larger deficit in an already struggling field. This is a time to be thinking about creating programs and pipelines for rising educators, specifically educators of color.

My friend and educator, Garris Stroud, is already on the job by developing policies and practices for his state to adopt a long-term and sustainable plan for the recruitment and retention of teachers. Additionally, he’s balancing the short-term impact of these shortages by urging state chiefs to issue waivers to pre-service teachers, allowing them into the virtual classrooms to close the gaps created by losses.

This is only a few out of a long list of problems. And a large majority of us have been complacent with the status quo. My hope is that the disparities people are experiencing first-hand will open more eyes and inspire more action—action that dismantles racist systems and practices and holds elected officials accountable in finally prioritizing education and bulldozing any other obstacles that impede our success or hinder our rights.

So yes, we have a crisis going on where many of us are concerned about the day-to-day and are in survival mode. But, we have to be forward-thinking. This is an opportunity to reimagine public education, reshape our communities and realize a new normal for marginalized populations to finally break free from the struggles we’re braving through now and in the past.

Tanesha Peeples

Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and advocacy of those that are often ignored. Tanesha wholeheartedly believes that education is the foundation for success. Her grand vision is one where everyone—regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or ZIP code—can have access to a comfortable quality of life and enjoy the freedoms and liberties promised to all Americans. And that's what she works towards every day.

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