Amid the thorny effort of university and elementary and secondary school administrators to the climate created by the novel coronavirus to safely operate classroom learning for the 2020-21 school year, Rep. Anthony Brown (D) convened a panel Oct.1 with leaders of local Black higher education institutions.

The object: How they are facilitating instruction, maintaining adequate resources for students and addressing virus-related maintenance issues.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Bowie University saw a steady increase in enrollment, currently increased by 1.3 percent, with additional increases in first-to-second year retention and graduation rates, University President Aminta H. Breaux said. She said she wants to create solutions that will assure both a comfortable learning experience while increasing enrollments.

“We are remaining focused on our strategic goals so that when we come out on the other side of this pandemic, we are positioned for success,” said Breaux. “Through crisis there are opportunities for us to realize.”

The pandemic has confronted schools with unanticipated hurdles to keep up with the planned course of study placed active students into virtual learning mode, creating handicaps for those families working with a lack of resources to keep up with the school curriculum.

“We are offering the content our students would experience as if they were in the classroom. It’s still that same rigorous content,” said Prince George’s County Schools CEO Monica Goldson. “What we want to do is make sure that we’re not increasing the academic achievement gap, but that we are closing it so that our students are college and career ready.”

The federal CARES Act funds has helped to provide needed subsidies for lower-income students who struggle with internet access and acquiring the other technical tools needed to stay academically afloat.

“Our board of education made a decision when we first started in the pandemic to take a million dollars of our operating money to help to begin to close the digital divide for us,” said Goldson. “While we’re grateful to have the funds, we do have to get to the point where we look at Wi-Fi, and broadband access, just like we do electricity and water. There is no way that we can function without it.”

Goldson encourages any families without computers to contact school principals to acquire ensure needed devices and internet access.

When the COVID-19 shutdown occurred, many administrators found that they were short of resources to facilitate distance learning.

“What we found when we went to remote learning is that many of our students did not have the equipment, or the Wi-Fi access. Through those funds, we were able to help close in on that digital divide for our students by providing laptops, chrome books, and hotspots,” Breaux said. “A great deal of those funds have been truly instrumental in helping our students to access remote learning, and without that, I’m not sure that we would have been able to close in on the digital divide.”

Parents play a key role, too, in achieving education goals during the pandemic, educators said.

“It’s a personal decision in your family, as there are many options for your child for school,” University of Maryland President Darryll Pines said. “We realize that the young people today want to have the same experiences that we had as college students, but it’s just a little bit different, and has to be done in a socially distant and safe way. So, we’ve tried to create an environment that is productive to learning and the student experience overall.”

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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