OPINION: Intentional Collaboration Ensures Education Equity In Times of Crisis

by Jordan Goldwarg

In times of crisis, communities survive through collaboration. We need to remember this as we look for solutions to educating our kids during the coronavirus crisis. During a time when Seattle Public Schools has been under fire for not acting quickly enough to find equitable solutions to begin distance learning, it is becoming clear that in order to support the intellectual and socio-emotional growth of all students, we need to develop strong partnerships between school districts, non-profits, and the private sector.

There are a number of barriers to providing education to all students right now, but none of them are insurmountable. When it comes to technological barriers, local tech companies like Microsoft or Amazon should step up to donate hardware or funding to ensure that every student has access to a laptop and WiFi hotspot. Whether classes are conducted live through a platform like Zoom, or with students watching pre-recorded videos and then engaging in individual work on their own time, it is clear that distance learning is easier for many students when they have access to technology.

Local nonprofits can also contribute in a variety of ways. Organizations like OneWorld Now (of which I am the Executive Director) have found great success in offering distance learning during this difficult time, which takes some of the teaching load off the school district. We already provide foreign-language instruction to nearly 100 local students (with classes that transitioned online the day that schools closed), and we hope to collaborate with SPS to reach even more students in online classes while school buildings remain closed. We are regularly receiving feedback from students and parents who are grateful that learning is continuing, not to mention that classes relieve some of the boredom of being stuck at home. Meanwhile, other organizations like Communities in Schools of Seattle are ensuring that students’ basic needs are met by coordinating things like food delivery to families, supplementing the lunches being provided by the district.

While some barriers can be removed by the non-profit sector and private companies, students have such a wide range of needs that the school district still needs to play a central role.  If we are not deliberate in the coming weeks, the biggest educational tragedy of our current crisis will be the widening of inequalities between those students with privilege (whose families have access to good technology and additional resources like tutors or private therapists) and those students who depend primarily on our public schools for both learning and a range of physical and socio-emotional support services. The school district is especially well-suited to support our highest-needs students, including those with disabilities and English Language Learners. If we are successful in building the strong collaborations outlined here, the school district will be able to expend more resources towards ensuring that the most vulnerable are not left behind.

I know that many of us, including our kids, are still struggling just to get through the day in our new reality. But with the likelihood that schools will remain closed for many weeks (if not months), the time is now to start considering what role each of us can play in ensuring quality education for our kids. If you work at a large tech company, advocate for donating resources to students. If you see nonprofits doing good work in the community, donate to them to ensure they can survive the economic crisis that is already here. If you know a student who is struggling academically, offer to tutor them online. And everyone can write to your school board members and district leadership urging them to ensure opportunities for all students.

In times of crisis, we are also often presented with unexpected opportunities. As difficult as the current moment is, it is my deepest hope that we use it to build a more equitable system that will provide even more learning opportunities for all students well into the future.

Jordan Goldwarg is the Executive Director of OneWorld Now, a nonprofit that promotes global leadership in youth through foreign language training, leadership workshops, and study abroad opportunities.

Featured image by Joe Wolf