Jamala Rogers

I have seen some clever memes on social media about the instant home-schooling situation created by the COVID-19 crises. A few of them got a good chuckle out of me. I could tell a number of the memes were concocted or circulated by educators who wondered out loud, “Now you see I wasn’t lying about your bad-ass son!”

We should know this is no laughing matter—unless we’re laughing to keep from crying. Students coming from impoverished homes struggle academically without a nasty virus on the scene. If there is no summer school to make up for the loss of second semester, we can count on the academic achievement gap widening.

Significant research has been done on the backsliding of poor students during the summer break. The phenomenon is referred to as the summer learning loss (SLL) or the summer slide. While parents with resources enroll their kids in computer camps, thespian teams or sports leagues or travel abroad, too many poor kids spend hours watching TV or playing outside. Any instructional gains made during the school year are doomed.

Research over decades indicates the learning loss increases with age so that by middle school, these students are experiencing 35-50 percent decreases in reading and math. For districts concerned about standardized tests (I am not), they should be thinking about interventions right now. The interventions cannot be just about the academics.

I’m concerned about the increase in child abuse (sexual and physical). I’m concerned about domestic abuse. I’m concerned about hunger. I’m concerned about unhoused families. I’m concerned about students with no one to help them with homework. I’m concerned that students don’t have internet or devices to do their assignments.

And while I’m concerned about all students in the bi-state area, my heart and history lie with the St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS). Ninety-four percent of SLPS students receive free or reduced lunches. Many also received breakfast and, for those in after-school programs, they looked forward to those snacks. Meals through the schools are a necessity. The district has addressed that need during the stay-home mandate by giving out food kits to families every Friday that last for a week.

We know that students are not showing up for their online classes. We know that most of them don’t have internet services or computers. How is this situation – well-known before the pandemic – being addressed?

We know who the haves and have nots are, and it’s not always about race. A Pew Research Center study found the families with higher incomes are more likely to have internet and multiple devices such as laptops and tablets. One in four low-income students have no access to the internet. This means a black student in North St. Louis and a white student in Fredericktown, Missouri share the same problem because of their economics.

COVID-19 is now in control of our lives and our timelines. We know that this school semester is a bust. Since folks are resistant to practicing public safety during the pandemic, summer school as we know it is probably wishful thinking.

Our communities will have to develop some creative strategies now. Kids trying to learn in an environment where tensions are flaring because of no jobs, no money, no food, no recreation. We know these families.

Can we make a commitment to call or Facetime a child to help with homework? Or to watch a movie together with a screen share? Or to sit on the porch and chat over some smoothies (at a distance!). Let’s give Mom, Dad or the grandparents a break. Let’s give the children a break. Before this pandemic is over, we’re gonna need a lot of breaks so that we don’t break – in pieces.

I will check in with folks at SLPS to see what they’re designing for these special learning circumstances. Let me know what child or youth you connect with to bring some joy and a little peace.

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