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Reimagining Education in the Time of COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic creates unprecedented challenges for our students, advocating for great teachers is more important than ever.

October 26, 2020
LaKeisha Wells-Palmer

LaKeisha Wells-Palmer

As we enter the second quarter of the school year during this unprecedented time and in such a radically different landscape, it has become clear that one of the biggest challenges facing teachers and families this year has been navigating the uncertainty of virtual, in-person, or in the case of Duval County, hybrid teaching environments.

As a mom of three boys, I, like so many other parents across the state of Florida, am juggling the challenges of these new learning environments coupled with my own professional responsibilities. And as the executive director of Teach For America Jacksonville and Central Florida, I recognize the stark inequities that exist for so many families in this moment. 

Many students in the low-income communities our teachers serve throughout Florida, specifically those in Jacksonville and Central Florida, have been disproportionately affected by lack of access to virtual learning equipment, safe/stable learning environments, and other mechanisms needed to thrive in this new environment.

From halted learning in spring, to breaching a new frontier with back to school, it is clear that COVID-19 is having a profound impact on the students we serve. Without taking action to ensure these families have what they need for their children to continually thrive in virtual or hybrid settings, these students will inevitably be the ones who fall through the cracks. The 2020-21 school year is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges we have ever faced, but at Teach For America, we refuse to let this be a lost year for our students. 

What We Can Do

In a recent piece published by Education and Career news, Teach For America CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote about three actions communities, educators, parents, and caregivers can take in this moment to continue moving our students forward. Increasing internet access and ensuring students have essential learning tools are the first two actions highlighted. Lack of access to technology and critical resources are disconnecting our most vulnerable students at alarming rates, and this is especially true in Jacksonville and Central Florida. However, with the right resources at our disposal this does not have to be a persistent reality. Thanks to our regional board members and our partners at TIAA Bank, State Farm, and Siemens Energy who hosted school supply drives for our students, students are now equipped with the foundational tools and resources needed to successfully learn from both virtual and in-person learning environments this school year.

“The 2020-21 school year is undoubtedly one of the greatest challenges we have ever faced, but at Teach For America, we refuse to let this be a lost year for our students. ”

LaKeisha Wells-Palmer

Executive Director, TFA Jacksonville and Central Florida

Lastly, as stated by Elisa in her third action, thriving in these new environments would not be possible without consistently “advocating for great teaching...[because it's] the most essential ingredient in a child’s education.”

As parents, caregivers, teachers, and community leaders we must recognize the power of committed, innovative, and dedicated teachers during this critical moment in time. 

For this reason, in a time of national crisis, our 2,200 teachers and alumni in Florida have answered the call and stepped up in a big way. I am humbled to see our educators taking the lead, knocking down barriers, and prioritizing relationships with students and family members to make sure they have everything they need to succeed this school year. While ensuring students have the resources they need to thrive is important, these benefits are positively compounded when coupled with teachers who are willing to go above and beyond to ensure immeasurable student growth.

Like my colleague Elisa, I have reason to be hopeful as our Teach For America network faces the challenges 2021 undoubtedly holds alongside students. In the face of adversity, it is our  responsibility as a community to demand and create an education system that ensures all children can thrive regardless of proximity or socio-economic status.

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