At the beginning of the launch of “distance learning” for school children forced to stay at home because of the coronavirus pandemic, it was reported that 40% of Minneapolis Public School students did not have access to the devices needed to support a digital distance learning strategy. Moreover, 64% of African American students reportedly did not have access to the computers/tablets needed to succeed. Conversely, 88% of their White counterparts were equipped with the tools needed to engage in cyber-school.
This a very real threat to our children and their futures. When children return to school in September, they will have been out of the classroom for five months. While more affluent children continue to progress, some of our children will witness what is being referred to as the “COVID slide” where they lose educational progress they had made before they were forced to stay at home.
This will widen the achievement gap and feed the “misery management machine” of the future. Since the current efforts are yielding the current results, it is time for us to develop a community-based home education system that supports educators, parents, and students. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures.
The African American Community Response Team 2020 (AACRT) a coalition of community-based organizations is stepping up to the challenge. Our broadcast partner, Black Music America will use its on-demand channel to provide universal access to education across the region. The initial pilot will focus on preschoolers to ensure that they are ready for kindergarten.
We will build out upper grades as soon as it is launched. We will also field a parent lab to provide parents with tools to support their children. After the pandemic, these broadcasts will provide valuable tools for the family, friends, and neighbors who watch over 60% of African American children while their parents work.
This month, we will pilot mobile learning labs—tech buses—in North Minneapolis neighborhoods. The tech buses will be equipped with Chromebooks, WI-Fi, and Zoom tutors while providing much needed quiet and dedicated study time. We plan to serve 450 kids per day, two days a week, for ten weeks during the summer via our “Get on the Bus” campaign. And we will comply with all safety and social distancing standards.
While these are not silver bullets, they are steps in the right direction and there is a role for everyone. We need volunteers and financial support from our friends. In addition, we need policy makers, to support this effort with meaningful leadership and resources.
Please visit our Facebook page AACRT2020, listen to KMOJ, watch Black Music America on Comcast channel 937 and read the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder as we continue to develop this plan. These trusted resources within our community are helping share a vision for a future which allows the black community to help itself.
The children of this community need you to get on board to ensure their futures. Are you with us?
Louis J. King II is president and CEO of Summit Academy OIC.