Krystal Barnett

The quarantine from COVID-19 has transformed public education as we know it and put the job of educating St. Louis’ children squarely (and at times, solely) into the hands of their families. We’ve risen to the challenge and quickly converted our living spaces into learning ones. But in-between adjusting to Zoom classrooms and conquering new math concepts, parents have been asking questions about what the future of education looks like for our children.

Historically, without organized, parent-led advocacy, and in the absence of a clear student learning approach and need-centered philosophy, education leaders and policymakers have designed systems that place their focus on what is best for the public education system – not necessarily the children. The systems that educate our kids will ask for more resources, more ways to protect their jobs, and yet, it always feels like our children somehow end up with less. 

Now, the coronavirus has completely turned our normal way of life upside down, delivering a Grand-Canyon-sized shift in teaching and learning. But within this crisis, there is an unprecedented opportunity and a responsibility to reimagine schools – not just the buildings in which our children are educated, but also the systems, concepts, resources, and environment that inform their learning.

A shift in how we think about every aspect of our schools is daunting, but urgent. Changing systems might traditionally start with thinking through districts’ needs – gaps in funding, new programs that can be launched, new staff that can be hired, and more. We recommend a different approach. 

Change must start with what families need first. St. Louis is clamoring for a parent-centric approach to policymaking. 

As we plan for what school will look like in the fall, we must plan for ensuring that all students and families have internet access and technological learning tools, we must individualize learning for each child, and we must empower parents to choose the offerings that are best for their families.

Our organization – Bridge 2 Hope – is comprised of parents who are demanding just that. We are launching a new parent manifesto that calls for three specific actions from SLPS.

First, every student must receive a personalized plan for academic recovery by November 1. The plan should capture the needs of the whole child – academics, mental health, resources, home life, parent support, communication, and equitable school practices. As parents, we see the importance of individualized attention every day. Because children in every family need varying levels of support or care, there’s no way a one-size-fits-all approach will succeed in our classrooms. Having a tailored plan for each child will help mitigate learning loss.  

Second, we must ensure that each student, in every home, has internet access and necessary technological devices and platforms. The devices and platforms must function appropriately and include specific student-based curriculums. More importantly, the parents and students must have the essential guidance needed to navigate the technology efficiently.

And just as important, before school registration occurs, parents who are not comfortable sending their children into school buildings must be given a choice to continue with a district-provided at-home learning program for part of or all of the 2020-2021 school year. Every family faces different circumstances, and each should be able to choose the type of schooling – in-person or remote – that is right for them. 

These would be profound, much-needed changes. But in the last three months, we have learned some painful and powerful new things right alongside our children in our makeshift, at-home classrooms. We learned that life can change in an instant. Anything is possible. 

We must reimagine and redesign our school system to meet the unique needs of this moment, and that design effort must be approached in a new and more inclusive manner that includes parent voices. SLPS and Charter Schools just have to be brave enough to allow it. Don’t squander your opportunity to transform the system for our new world. 

Krystal Barnett is a St. Louis parent and executive director of Bridge 2 Hope St. Louis, a movement by and for parents calling for policy changes in schools. 

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