AS MANY STUDENTS struggle to keep up with schoolwork virtually, Julia Rios welcomed praise that two kindergarteners she is working with in a new community learning pod are thriving. Their parents and teachers from Blackstone Innovation School in Boston report that, unlike so many children trying to learn during the pandemic, these youngsters are keeping up with their work and even advancing.
How is this possible? We call it “The Moonshot Project,” a wildly visionary approach to re-imagining education when faced with the new challenges of COVID-19 against the old, intractable, and widening disparities experienced by children of lower economic means and often of color. We decided to seize this moment to level the playing field.
As families with financial means formed small groups of children, hired instructors, offered spaces that allow for physical distancing, and provided seamless, reliable access to the internet, we are doing the same for more than 100 children in the city to learn through four established community organizations led by leaders of color. The result so far? Kids are excelling.
We, the leaders of YMCA of Greater Boston, Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA), The BASE, and Latinos for Education, formed the Community Learning Collaborative to provide high-quality academic support, social-emotional development, health and wellness, recreation, arts, movement, and food in a fun and engaging environment. Our whole-child approach includes culturally appropriate curricula, taught and supported by leaders and teachers of color, which contributes to positive self-identities for children of color. We are also combating food insecurity and hunger by providing healthy and nutritious meals and snacks.
Our 12 equity pods are organized by age and grade level, with students spending the day with an educator in a community-based setting within walking distance of their homes as they work on their Boston Public School lessons. Each location is equipped with high-speed internet, laptop computers for students who do not have them, and headsets so students can focus on their classwork with their Boston Public School teachers.
Upon the completion of their online learning, students engage in an array of enrichment activities provided by Community Learning Collaborative partners. Youngsters can use the gym or open spaces for daily structured physical activity, create art, and socialize with physical distance but with emotional well-being in mind.
Our equity pods give parents and caregivers – many of whom are front line workers – peace of mind, knowing their children can continue to learn and grow in a safe, supervised, and caring setting while they are at work. It is critical that parents can keep supporting their families despite the dire backdrop of job losses and financial hardship, caused by the coronavirus.
In the nascent stages, we are re-imagining education as an estimated 3 million students nationally have dropped out of school learning since March, according to a new study by Bellwether Education Partners, a national nonprofit that focuses on underserved children. Learning differences, language barriers, food insecurity, and lack of stable internet have become prevalent obstacles for many students across the country. The Community Learning Collaborative is addressing these problems locally.
The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated disparities experienced by low-income black and Latinx children. These inequities often result from limited access to academic, enrichment, and out-of-school opportunities available to children of wealthier households. As a result, our black and Latinx children are less likely to graduate from high school, attend college, secure gainful employment, and accumulate wealth. All of these outcomes can be mitigated by providing equitable access to educational opportunities. Our collaborative’s student-centered approach can be scaled to provide equitable learning opportunities while schools operate remotely.
We are reimagining public education in Boston while assuring children, like those attending the Blackstone Innovative School, every opportunity for success in school and in life. Our resolve is fueled by the fierce urgency of now and knowing that if our society fails to educate all of its children, then we have failed all of its children.
Amanda Fernandez is CEO and co-founder of Latinos for Education, James Morton is president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Boston, Robert Lewis is president and founder of The BASE, and Vanessa Calderón-Rosadois is CEO of Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA).