Children and Poverty in the Era of Covid-19: How Remote Learning Exacerbates Inequality in New York City

On June 10, a webinar entitled Children and Poverty in the Face of Covid-19: How Remote Learning Exacerbates Inequality in New York City” took place and was jointly sponsored by Equity for Children (EFC) at The New School, All Together in Dignity Fourth World (ATD 4th World) and the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School. More than 200 individuals from seven countries participated.

The full webinar can be accessed here.

Mothers and activists with direct experience of poverty contributed to a meaningful dialogue with educators, practitioners and policymakers to discuss how and why remote learning exacerbates inequalities in New York City’s educational system and what can be done to improve the situation.

Participants included: Maryann Broxton, Tina Lindsey, Rosetta Savanna, Kimberly Tyre, Virginie Charvon, and Cristina Diez from ATD Fourth World, NYC; Alexandra Teitel, Community School Director, Partnership with Children, PS 284 The Gregory “Jocko” School; Tom Liam Lynch, Director of Education Policy, The Center for NYC Affairs at The New School and Editor-in-Chief of InsideSchools; Adrienne Austin, Deputy Chancellor of Community, Empowerment, Partnerships, and Communications, NYC Department of Education; and Alberto Minujin, Executive Director of Equity for Children at The New School, who introduced the session by recognizing that this conversation about inequality is especially poignant right now, during a moment in which people all across the country (and the world) are saying “enough” to all forms of inequality.

Speakers included mothers and grandmothers who are strong advocates of equal learning for all students, irrespective of economic situation. Panelists discussed options for necessary, systemic change  that will eliminate centuries-old segregation, subjugation, inequality and injustice. Covid-19 and its consequences reveal overlapping and multiple inequalities that exist throughout New York City, especially for school children throughout elementary and high school. 

The following pressing issues were among those discussed:

  • Remote learning is universally stressful, frustrating, unexpected and time-consuming for students, parents and educators
  • Many parents feel ill-equipped to teach their children at all, with the skilled expertise of teachers. It is not that parents resist participating or succeeding; they frequently do not know how. Remote learning can feel like being thrown into the water and told to swim. Parents are drowning. 
  • Parents often feel blamed when their children struggle to keep up,  especially when they are teaching multiple children simultaneously or if they are working.
  • Children with special needs and learning differences lack the personalized, instructional resources during Covid-19 that enable them to learn. Despite the school system’s best efforts, some students are being left behind.
  • A household is so different from a classroom structure, which provides skilled guidance of a teacher, as well as other students to engage with and learn from
  • Parents are concerned about their children’s mental health. Too much time on the computer all day,  the neurological effects of prolonged screen time and social isolation that stems from no contact with other children are adding to children’s general anxiety and depression.
  • Remote learning is highly decentralized in New York City schools. Each school and district organizes its own lessons and activities. The standards vary from concrete curricula to activities that may not stimulate learning. The fast adaptation to remote learning created confusion for parents. It also reinforced pre-existing inequalities within school districts, because children with greater access to resources including technology, connectivity, food and tutorial help have more robust options available to them than children with less.

Webinar Takeaways:

  • Children with special needs and learning differences require customized attention. Remote learning cannot be a “one size fits all” approach. Educators need to tailor lessons to each student and family as much as possible. Administrators should prioritize in-person instruction or the hybrid model, which would offer a combination of remote and in-person education to facilitate learning and provide enhanced resources for students with greater needs.
  • We need trauma-informed teaching and support. Covid-19 is a collective trauma that is being felt by all students, families and educators. Students and families of color, however, live with the trauma of systemic racism with or without the pandemic. Remote learning has magnified the cumulative traumas and undue burdens lived  by families of color and those experiencing poverty.
  • Parents and families need more support. The budget for education and social services should be fortified, not cut. The social and emotional wellness of students, families and staff must be front and center now and in planning for the 2020-2021 school year. Overloaded teachers need assistance to deliver the curricula, and schools need mental health counselors on-site instead of NYPD “safety officers.”
  • Despite its best efforts and quick turnaround, the Department of Education would benefit from augmenting its leadership services. A Digital Learning Advisor will coordinate and streamline resources such as online learning platforms and manage culturally responsive learning materials for all education levels.
  • Transparency in decision-making by the Department of Education must include parents and activists. Ongoing efforts to develop multiple contingency plans and work streams in response to COVID-19 would benefit from caretakers’ input,  including pressing issues such as guidelines for health and safety protocols, sanitation, social distancing, blended learning, phased re-entry, building operations, transportation and trauma-informed practices..

This webinar was the third in a series organized by Equity for Children during the Covid-19 pandemic, discussion briefs and short videos designed to provide a space for conversation and debate about how the most marginalized are disproportionately impacted by this worldwide crisis. The reports on the other webinars can be accessed here and here.

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