by Darryl J. Terry, II, Candidate for Georgia State House of Representatives District 56
I’ve received a number of calls over the past few days from a multitude of family and friends. And there seems to be a consistent question - or statement rather- amongst the group.
“I bet you’re happy to be off work for a few months, right?”
What they’re referring to is Governor Brian Kemp’s declaration signed on Wednesday, April 1st, to close Georgia’s schools until the fall. In reality, while we all would love a week off of work, I have major concerns about the current state of education and our children’s future.
It is often said that teachers make over 1,500 decisions a day - a number that far exceeds the decision making numbers of fortune five hundred CEO’s. Teachers are crucial to the cognitive development of our children and vital to their growth. Teachers all across the country have been charged with understanding a relatively new term coined by educational leadership - distance learning.
Distance learning can be traced back to the mid 19th century with the postal service delivering content to students around the nation. It wasn’t until 2003 that leaders began to fully develop true online learning. Today, there are complete online programs in higher education and even here in Georgia. It hit home when I realized that my mother was one of the first teachers to teach Georgia Virtual School while working as a full-time educator. So naturally, I’ve stolen many tools from her toolbox. (Fun fact, I’m a third-generation educator!)
"I do have my own reservations with online education."
The traditional schoolhouse setting has served as a haven for students to escape the realities of life. Removing that access to safe physical space will, no doubt, prove to have a negative effect on their social, emotional, and cognitive development. There also exists the issue of equality in access to education. Fortunately, my school was able to provide all students with a laptop device if necessary. Certain students also received complimentary WiFi hotspots that have a four-year expiration date. These devices were donated by Sprint, but not all received this courtesy. The demand was simply too high.
While students were provided access to a laptop, the number of students who have access to the internet varies widely. A large majority of my students complete assignments using their cellular devices. While this is accessible, it cannot compare to the education a student would receive in the traditional classroom setting. I applaud teachers across the country who have found innovative ways to reach students. One method that helps increase student participation is live video conferences. Students can video in and discuss questions they have with assignments, receive clarity on their questions, and even just allow teachers to perform welfare checks to make sure students are making it safely through these trying times.
However, we must look at the consequences COVID-19 has caused. Assuming we are allowed to return to normalcy by the fall, students would have been away from school for 4 1/2 months, 21 weeks, 147 days. There are 365 days in a calendar year. Students are required to attend school for 180 days. They will have missed over 60 days of instruction from the spring semester. State tests have been suspended. Teacher evaluations have been suspended. Institutions of higher learning are waiving SAT/ACT restrictions and requirements. Georgia Regents have frozen tuition hikes for the next school year. Schools like Boston University are preparing contingency plans not to return to school.
"Our system of educating students was flipped on its face almost overnight."
And the issues with education don’t stop at the classroom door. Student-athletes, as well as students involved in the arts, have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. Band and choral festivals have been canceled. Spring sports, games, and practices have all been suspended. The Executive Director of the Georgia High School Association - the governing board of high school athletics - has canceled all sports for the remainder of the school year and stated that athletes will not receive an extra year of eligibility.
"Our students deserve better."
Recently, a number of teachers have been required to recreate their curriculum to fit the needs of their students. Science and math teachers have it particularly tough as their students often need physical representation to understand the content. Video labs and online manipulatives cannot replace the physical presence of an educator. Because of COVID-19, teachers have taken on new challenges and asked to be leaders in different ways. Personally, I was asked to serve as the American Government content lead for my school, coordinating content for every student taking an American government class throughout the campus. The purpose is to ensure that all students are receiving an equitable education. Further, it allows teachers to dedicate time to students who need more assistance and ensure they have access to resources so they can be successful. And we do this with the support of our students' parents.
"Teaching goes beyond the classroom."
We have asked parents to step up in ways that we can’t even imagine. And parents have been the most responsive as I have seen in education. But many students lack this support system. It is our job as educators to go above and beyond to reach all scholars. And I commend all teachers working to make sure we reach every single student. I applaud our students for doing what needs to be done and being patient with us as we navigate this new technological learning experience.
Finally, to the class of 2020, I cannot fathom how this crisis has impacted your life. I won’t fake or pretend that I understand the pain and frustration you feel. Graduating from high school, college, trade school or any ceremonial program is one of the most important moments in your life. I want you to know that this is not your fault. You didn't deserve this. It’s not fair. Your loss of this moment is legitimate and don’t let anyone take that away from you. I challenge you to form your own support system of other people in your graduating class who know the pain you feel. When you start to get down or upset about it, consult your peers. As you all will need each other as time passes.
We have a long way to go before we see the end of this crisis. Do your part. Stay home. Flatten the curve. We’ll get through this.