COVID-19 makes student access gaps impossible to ignore

COVID-19 makes student access gaps impossible to ignore

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” - Ruth Bader Ginsburg

This past year and all that we have experienced: COVID-19, the murders of Black lives such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the civil rights movements and momentum that these injustices have galvanized motivate me to lean even more deeply into the fight for the things that I care about. The debt that is owed to students of color and students navigating poverty is long overdue and has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, further exposing what we at In4All have been mobilizing around for the past decade. Our mission to engage business professionals and teachers to bring relevance to classroom content by connecting education standards to careers while dismantling and disrupting what adults and students alike believe is possible for their future is meant to expose behaviors and beliefs that make gaps in student success possible. Not in an attempt to cause division or to promote discussions and ideas that situate blame but in an effort to encourage others to take up our charge to create a future for our students that is limitless.The things that have brought attention to the disparities Oregon students of color and those navigating poverty experience—inequities in accessing learning resources and tools, designated physical learning space that is designed to promote learning and curiosity, and access to adults who are able to support their learning because they have careers that allow them to work remotely—are not new. They are not caused by COVID-19 and distance learning but they are impossible to ignore because of it. And as much as the world would like for its citizens to believe that two successful vaccines and the shift in power we await in January will mitigate or close the gap for Oregon students, neither have the power to do it alone. The problem, which is too deeply embedded to be remedied by a single event, will take collective effort, action, and community mobilization to undo.The success of Oregon students who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and distance learning is not only a responsibility we all share. It is something that, when achieved, we all benefit from. The conversations that have positioned student learning gaps in a way that tells us some students are smarter than others, that some students need a “leg up”, and things like nation of origin or first languages being something other than English as a deficit are misguiding. They cause us to frame race, ethnicity, and cultural differences and practices as deficits instead of the manifestations of community wealth that they are representative of. They perpetuate the need for a “helper” and “helpee” which then downplays the innate strength of every individual in our community and their role in creating an Oregon that thrives.I choose to fight for the student who is experiencing success at a disproportionate rate, and the fight begins with how the conversation about success is framed. The communities of students that In4All engages in our programs do not need us to help them. Our community as a whole is responsible for affirming the innate dignity, talent, and assets that are represented in them so that together - with them - we can create a future for them that is limitless. Some might say the difference is nuanced, or that it is simply semantics and I would disagree. Centering this work on the students and in our responsibility to affirm what is innately powerful about them instead of seeing ours as a position helping them access what we define as their success has the ability to dismantle the behaviors and thinking that create the barriers they have to navigate.Because the absolute truth is that Oregon cannot flourish until equity and inclusion also do. It is when our differences are celebrated and revered in a way that upholds and sustains them that we gain the strength, momentum, and innovation that we seek. The diversity in opinion and thought this will promote within our schools, our places of work, our local and state governments, and policymaking is essential to our economic recovery and to the healing that must take place if we are to ever realize a future that is limitless for all of us. I want you to join me in my fight for Oregon students who are experiencing success at disproportionate rates. But I want you to join me because you know that they are talented, and the way that they see the world, and the skills that they have developed while navigating the injustices they are experiencing are all assets that our communities need. It is my hope that one day, far from today, when vaccines, science, and mobilization for justice have prevailed we will still hold very tightly to what a global pandemic and a civil rights movement have reminded us of. That what the world needs is not more helpers but a world of people who believe in the strength of difference and collective action with such determination that they are willing to amplify equity and inclusion in all that they do.In solidarity,Elaine Charpentier PhilippiElaine is a demonstrated nonprofit leader who believes in the power of people and systems to transform and overcome structural oppression through participation and collaboration. She is passionate about and adept in growth and development at the personal, program, and organizational levels and skillfully works to bring this posture to nonprofit board and staff development, the development of equitable program and organization infrastructure, evaluation informed program change, and strategic organizational growth.

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