By Adrián Pedroza and Nithya Joseph
The systemic barriers to access and opportunity facing Latinx students and families existed long before the COVID-19 pandemic — but the fallout from this crisis has disproportionately exacerbated inequities facing the Latinx community, and Latinx students in particular.
In the most comprehensive national survey of the impact of COVID-19 on Latinx families, 70 percent of parents/caregivers reported that they are concerned about keeping up with payments for priorities like rent, mortgages, utilities, and food, 29 percent of respondents said they have lost a job due to the pandemic, and 52 percent have experienced a cut to their work hours or pay. Nearly half of Latinx families reported that they had less than $1,000 in savings. Latinx children make up 28 percent of public school students, and yet one in three Latinx households does not have access to the Internet needed for remote learning; 53 percent of Latinx parents reported that they did not have enough computers, tablets, or laptops to support distance learning, even with Internet access.
Decades of research tells us that the context in which young people learn — including the social, emotional, and physical aspects of their environment — has just as much impact on educational and related outcomes as the content they are learning. Listening to and meeting the needs of families to create environments conducive to learning and healthy brain development is inextricably tied to student success, especially in the context of a global pandemic.
Because of enduring systemic barriers to high-quality education, stable jobs, reliable income, and much more, Latinx students and families are too often denied access to the very supports all students deserve. In order to improve outcomes for both students and families — in both the short- and long-term — it is incumbent on all of us to work together to advance holistic policy solutions that take into account the whole experience of every child. Such actions not only benefit the Latinx community; they are critical to increasing educational and economic prosperity for our society collectively.
At Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors (AP/OD), we know that by treating families as equals in the education process and co-creating strategies, we are able to develop programs tailored to the goals and needs of our community. By centering the knowledge and expertise of those closest to the problems, we can propose effective legislative policies that advance holistic solutions at scale. For instance, policy solutions that provide funding and strengthen community-based services — such as peer and trauma-informed supports for youth — help address the impact of systemic inequities.
Additionally, policies that remove physical barriers to learning (especially as digital tools become more and more important) like high speed internet, digital devices, and technological support will improve access to equitable and integrated learning for students and families. This requires long-term investments in broadband and digital capacity for communities that face barriers to accessing these necessities. However, ‘long-term’ does not mean we have to wait — we can start now, with solutions like expanding and making permanent the WiFi “hot spots” that districts across the country have made available for those without Internet at home.
The work between AP/OD and America Forward has highlighted the importance of partnership — across sectors and all levels of government — when it comes to affecting systemic change that translates to on-the-ground progress. While community-based solutions are imperative to solving the most pressing challenges facing our students, families, and communities, those solutions are most effective when supported by a bold infusion of federal and local resources aimed at advancing equity and addressing the massive disruption caused by COVID-19. Targeted Federal and state government resources — such as the funding allocated by Title I, II, III, IV, and IDEA — is critical to advancing innovative approaches that can address learning gaps compounded by COVID-19, such as expanded out-of-school time, access to tutoring, deeper parent engagement, and summer school programs.
In response to the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Latinx communities and others already grappling with long-standing systemic opportunity gaps, there is an urgent need for renewed energy and focus on expanding and scaling whole-learner approaches. As we move into a new presidential administration and new Congress, we have the opportunity to expand sustainable, effective strategies that both take into account the “context” in which young people are learning today, and which cultivate the kind of learning experiences that values every young person to develop the breadth of skills they need to thrive. We must commit to the bold policy changes and investments necessary to honor families as equal partners, support educators, advance critical cross-sector partnerships, center science and evidence, and reward what works for our communities — throughout COVID-19 and beyond.
Through AP/OD’s groundbreaking research, we have gained a more comprehensive window into the unprecedented challenges facing Latinx communities across the country, and we’ve heard directly from Latinx families about what they need to adapt and recover, including more holistic educational support. Armed with that information, and in deep partnership with Latinx communities, it’s time for policymakers to push forward systemic, evidence-based, and innovative solutions.
Adrián Pedroza is the National Director of Strategic Partnerships at Abriendo Puertas/Opening Doors. Nithya Joseph is the Advocacy Director at America Forward.