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Schools in the Time of COVID

An empty classroom
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How can students safely return to school this fall? 

Mere months after COVID-19 blindsided the nation, K-12 schools across the country are grappling with how (and when, and how much) to re-open. How much should remain virtual when there’s a psychological urgency of getting children back into the classroom? What would virtual instruction mean for teachers and families? 

Host Roben Farzad is joined this week by former Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton, 2019 National Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson and VPM News reporter Megan Pauly to discuss logistics, equity, and creative solutions for educating students in a pandemic.

“You don't need to have the [police brutality] conversation with Black students because they live it every day. Every Black kid has a George Floyd story and luckily they didn’t die.But every, pretty much young, black person has had an interaction with the police, that has not gone in their favor, or the police did not act in a positive way towards them.” -Rodney Richardson, Teacher of the Year recipient and history teacher at Virgie Binford Education Center inside of Juvenile Detention Center.

Episode excerpt

The following excerpt is edited for clarity. 


Roben Farzad: Now the pandemic of 2020 is being looked at is one of those great historical reset moments where all sorts of institutions are being reassessed, real time. When you close your eyes at night when you're about to go to bed, how do you wish the public school system would emerge out of this? What kind of changes would you love to see?

Rodney Robinson: I'd love to see just more emphasis on funding, making sure all students have the resources they need. One thing COVID did was it really put a spotlight on a lot of the inequities that existed for years in education. The inequities that teachers talked about, knowing that students are coming to school to eat. Students leave, they don't have access to broadband, they don't have access to technology. So I really want to see a funding change where all students get this. And from an education standpoint, I want to see districts build platforms for online learning. One of the things we say is kids don't learn online, that's not the truth. Some kids are doing amazingly well during this online period. So let's keep that as part of our pedagogy, allow students to learn on their own. I think that with the Black Lives Matter movement, we really need to highlight the disparities in education between white students and Black and Brown students. I really would like to come out of this with districts having targeted interventions, concrete plans to make sure that Black and Brown students achieve at the same level as other students, because we know that that exists. We know there's an achievement gap. But, districts just have kind of had that ostrich syndrome where they put their head in the sand and say, ‘oh, overall, our schools are doing well.’ But what about your Black and Brown students? So I think this is a moment not only with the pandemic and with the Black Lives Matter, to shoot for racial justice in education, ending the school to prison pipeline. The fact that Black and Brown students are suspended at three times the rate as white students, those are the types of things we need to start challenging and asking ‘why do they exist?’ As we move forward in education, let's start creating intervention programs, let's start creating restorative justice, let's start creating programs that actually benefit our schools and that benefit Black and Brown students. A lot of times Black and Brown students are traumatized by school. And people always say there's a shortage of Black and Brown teachers and we’ll often say, ‘well, no one wants to go back to the scene of their trauma as a career field.’ If we can make schools more inviting and successful for everyone, then I think we can come out as pandemic doing some great things.

Listen Fridays at 2 p.m. on VPM News, 88.9 FM. The show reairs Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 8 p.m. and is available wherever you get your podcasts.

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