Schools stood in the gap for students
Schools made massive changes to help kids switch to virtual learning, and now it’s lawmakers’ turn to support schools.
By Yasmin Bhatia and Pedro Martinez
1:30 AM on May 2, 2021
The world changed more than a year ago for our schools. Bus drivers in many districts including San Antonio Independent School District became relief workers, delivering food, technology and instructional materials to our students’ homes. One of our preschool teachers, who will tell you she’s not a techie, spent many late nights collaborating with her fellow teachers on engaging lesson plans, and delivered basic supplies, clothes and food to her students’ families.
Counselors at Uplift Education schools across North Texas helped students work through anxiety brought on by switching to virtual platforms and losing social interaction, and they helped families with needs such as housing instability and food insecurity. At Uplift, nearly 80% of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. Many students had loved ones pass away from COVID-19 complications, leaving them not only experiencing grief, but also financial hardships.
Because of the ongoing health crisis, our district and charter students were in danger of losing access to safe and healthy meals. Educators began to distribute meals in the spring, in some cases several times a day. The reality of needing to feed students at a massive scale continued during the summer months. Over 2 million meals were served during the closure from March through August 2020 in San Antonio ISD.
In addition, many of our Texas schoolchildren went home last spring with limited internet access and insufficient technological devices. Within weeks, San Antonio ISD acquired 47,000 Chromebooks and distributed more than 19,500 Wi-Fi hot spots, and Uplift had to equip more than 18,000 students who needed laptops and nearly 2,500 hot spots, all without knowing for certain how we would pay for this equipment. Schools stood in the gap. There was no other option because we had to do what was best for our students.
Now we are asking the Texas Legislature to do the same for students and teachers. We appreciate our state leaders taking the first step this week to help us recover from what some are calling the lost year in Texas education. For the biggest impact, federal funds slated for public education should be distributed before the end of this academic year, and we are eager to hear the decision on the remaining federal funds.
If our schools directly received federal relief funds, we would be able to pay for accelerated learning and instructional initiatives, including high-quality tutoring and programs. These funds should be used to support all grades and school types, including Texas Partnership charter school campuses.
Federal relief funds would also enable educators to address the social and emotional needs of students as they adjust from remote learning back to in-person instruction and begin to recover from the trauma of the past year. We also hope these funds can be used for reimbursement purposes throughout the pandemic. Our schools covered so many costs in child nutrition, safety measures and operation connectivity due to the unprecedented nature and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We serve as co-chairs of the District Charter Alliance and lead the San Antonio Independent School District and Uplift Education, which means we stand united in what is best for all Texas students no matter the type of school. School districts and charter schools have experienced unanticipated costs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with a return to in-person learning, our students have had interruptions to their education that will have lasting effects. We continue to be concerned about COVID-19 learning loss as well as social emotional issues stemming from the disruption. The timely distribution of these critical education funds will allow educators to help students recover and put Texas youth back on the path to educational success.
Overall, both of our districts and so many others have jumped from crisis mode to simply getting it done. We have been keeping students and teachers safe, and when we were able to return to our schools, we led the charge to keep schools open. We ran multiple learning models respond to family and student needs. We do not consider this a lost year in education.
Yasmin Bhatia is chief executive of Uplift Education.
Pedro Martinez is superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District.
They wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.