This is the latest in a series of blogs by partners of the Fluency work.
By Meredith Dailer
We are six months into 2020. We have seen the possibility of World War III, the impeachment of our highest government official, a pandemic, an economic catastrophe, food supply shortages, racial injustice protests and riots. If you had to choose one word to describe this past six months, what would it be? Based on the memes I have seen on social media, we would all either laugh (or cry) at the forthcoming answers. For me, the word is inequity.
With Covid-19, inequity simply hit us in the face. As administrators we were the front-line educational workers. We saw the families come for food; thankful that it was only one day a week and they didn’t have to use more gas than necessary to pick it up. We helped the little kids who came alone to get food get that too-big-to-carry box home. We took the calls from families with no internet because they lived too far out or because they simply couldn’t afford it. We made the paper packets and delivered them when they weren’t picked up. We were shocked to see where some of our students live. We monitored their chromebooks and sent police safety-checks when they were searching suicide or self-harm on the internet. We still got the handle-with-care emails. Sadly, those came more frequently than in the pre- Covid days. We tried emailing, calling, knocking on doors and still didn’t touch base with a few of our kids.
Covid was a hard reality check into our most marginalized and at-risk students. We saw it up close. Everyday. And it wasn’t just with our students. We saw it with our staff. We had those that struggled with the technology, those that came to our food sites for their own families and even those without internet with the expectation to work all day...on the internet. They expressed their concerns with their health, their paycheck, and their frustration with this new “school”. The stress and anxiety were palpable. The haves and the have-nots had been exposed.
I was already heartbroken by what Covid exposed in my school community when the George Floyd video went viral. As a history teacher, I am well-aware of the dark side of American slavery. I taught the hate that resided in the South throughout the Jim Crow era and into the Civil Rights movement. As I watched African American outrage on television, listened to their reality and recognized their pain, I was again heartbroken. I picture my kiddos, my students, feeling this way. I can’t imagine dealing with a pandemic AND the everyday racial negativity some endure.
So, now we’re faced with the re-opening of school. I'm overwhelmed these days trying to navigate this “new normal”. Equity sits in my gut and barks in my ear as we make these plans. I have a lot of questions and I want to cast their answers through the lens of equity. How do we best serve our special needs population? How do we reach those without reliable internet? How do we make sure our kids are fed and safe? How do we support our students’ mental health needs? How do we let our minority students know we stand in solidarity with them? How do I tap into the student experience and improve it? What processes can we adjust, delete or add to help build equity in our buildings? My hope is that this disruption will allow us to create a more equitable system for all our students – both educationally and socially.
My newest saying is that “nothing is easier in a pandemic”. But, as an earlier blog pointed out, there can be silver linings. Covid was a reality check for us. The realities we saw made compassion and empathy so much easier. When teachers reeled against value-added grading, we could speak from the heart and explain why it had to be this way for now. When parents vented about a certain teacher’s slow grading, we could talk about that teacher not having internet and sitting in a school parking lot for hours to get those papers graded. As I write this, I realize that Covid did what we all aim to do...know our students better. It’s unfortunate that it took a pandemic to get us there. And while it’s disappointing that our country is still grappling and trying to right the wrongs of our history, it is progress. It is opening our eyes to our own privilege and to the systemic racism that may still reside in our schools.
Both Covid and the Black Lives Matter movement are creating a new space for positive growth and dialogue. We have the opportunity to do things differently, better, more equitably. I don’t want this opportunity to slip by without taking advantage of the momentum and compassion that has been created. I recognize that we are in the position to craft the future of education and am excited for the possibilities. I truly hope we can move past the first half of 2020 and all the inequity it exposed, to build a better, more equitable 2021.
Meredith Dailer, NBCT, graduated from Fairmont State University in 2001 with a major in Secondary Education, Social Studies. Meredith began a career as a teacher at Wheeling Park High School in Social Studies. She is currently serving as Principal of Wheeling Park High School in Wheeling, WV.
Meredith previously coached girls basketball and remains heavily involved in student council since coming to Ohio County Schools and currently is a member Cohort 3 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University). Meredith’s special interests include cooking and spending time with her family.