Supporting low-income, rural students during COVID

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Kate Stoddard is a first-generation student who has always dreamed of supporting migrant, low-income students in underserved communities.

By Kate Stoddard

NU Scholar, January 2020 Cohort

Master of Education, Inspired Teaching and Learning, Multiple Subject Credential, Emphasis on Social Emotional Learning – Sacramento Region

I am called to work with students in low-income migrant communities, communities that have always faced tremendous barriers and challenges. People have said to me so many times “Why would you choose that career, you are worth so much more money wise” I did not choose to go into the educational field for the money. I tell them that I want to make a meaningful impact on children’s lives, and to make the biggest difference that I can in the community. Having grown up in an underserved community, and having experienced that lack of resources, I know what it’s like to grow up in a community where there is a lot of pressure to stay home and help the family. I want to change that mindset for children who have the same experiences, and to provide the resources that their families need to let children  focus on their education and social emotional skills. 

While COVID-related shutdowns have impacted all students and teachers, groups like this were especially hard-hit when schools were forced to shut their doors and to shift in-person instructional time to online “distance learning.”  Many classroom teachers (including myself) are now trying to understand the ins and outs of distance learning for the first time. If teachers are struggling, try to imagine the struggle the students are facing. While children can adapt quickly to change, they need structure and support to be successful. 

Try to imagine living in a small rural underserved community where families face high rates of poverty, and many struggle to make ends meet. While this perspective may be hard to grasp for many readers, I’m sure that at least a few of you may understand how difficult this is. With parents under so much extra stress during this time, we educators are left to work out the kinks of distance learning, and be there for our students. 

With COVID school closures, children are being left home to try to not only figure out how to engage in distance learning on their own, but also to survive. One of the biggest barriers is a lack of internet access in their homes. I was teaching a 5th grader one-on-one, via Zoom, when I noticed that the student was sitting in the backseat of a car. When I asked why she was working in the car, the student explained that she was sitting in her car at the local town library, so that she and her mom could access the internet. Both this student and her mother were in school: one trying to get through fifth grade, the other in class to learn English. While her mom sits in the front seat, and works on homework, my student sits in the back seat, and meets with me. This experience opened my eyes to a whole new world of struggles for these kids. In addition to the barrier of unequal internet access, this experience highlighted how many of my students are  English Language Learners, and whose parents are also English Language Learners. When schools are open, the teacher and other staff are there to help them and explain problems and questions. When their parents at home speak only Spanish, for example, it is difficult for them to get help on assignments. Many of these parents also have little experience using computers, and may not be able to help their kids with technical issues, like using Zoom, installing updates, and participating in online discussions.

A ten year old being left alone at home to figure out their academics, and mom and dad working to keep the lights on. This is the reality of these students’ lives. As a district we have provided many resources for these families (such as free laptops for those who need them, and continuing free breakfasts and lunches for students learning at home), but I worry that we need to do more for their social and emotional health. These students may not see what the future holds, but if we cultivate and support their ability to adjust quickly to adverse childhood experiences, this it will help them to fight in the future for their families injustices.

It is true that we are all experiencing hardships and difficulties relating to COVID. However, it has been hard to hear so many times “that it affects us all the same’” when, the fact is, it does not, as families with more resources are able to support these students much more than those without. This includes, for example, families with parents who are able to continue to work from home, families that can have one stay-at-home parent, parents who are tech-savvy English speakers, fast and reliable internet, good computers, quiet workspaces. While children are resilient and adjust quickly to their environments, as an educator, it is crucial that I continue to work hard to help these students get the resources needed to become successful. 

During this time, the question I continually ask myself is: “How can we as teachers make the biggest impact on these students, without causing more harm than good?” One way that I can do this is by using some of the resources that National University has made available to the public. I have found that the Sanford Harmony at Home resources (fro grades Pre-K to 6) have really helped me to support my students’ social-emotional learning over this time, which is so easily overlooked. I have also really appreciated the classroom resources that they have shared for grades Pre-K – 12, and which cover topics like how to run an engaging Zoom-based classroom to how to have engaging discussions online. 

I know that we will come out of this experience as stronger, better teachers. Thank you to all of the fellow teachers and students out there, and to the parents and community members who are supporting us.