Going Back to School in the U.S.: The Added Challenges of Students in Vulnerable Communities
Back to school has never quite looked like this before. All across the country, teachers, students and schools are starting to re-operate. Every school is striving to re-define what learning looks like this year in the midst of the unique challenges presented by Covid-19. Students, teachers and parents are all facing unprecedented situations. On top of the challenges felt by all, the needs of girls in vulnerable communities are even higher.
Global G.L.O.W. works in vulnerable communities throughout the U.S. and around the world. But how do we define a “vulnerable community”? In the U.S., for example, we only work with Title 1 schools—where large populations of students qualify for free or reduced lunch due to their family’s low-income status. To get a sense of what girls in these communities are facing during this back-to-school season, I talked to two of our U.S. Partnership Coordinators, Vanessa and Carmen, and one Global G.L.O.W. mentor, Elaina.
Vanessa is the Principal and Elaina is a teacher at GALS, a charter middle school north of Los Angeles in Panorama City, California. They started school entirely virtually in late August. Carmen is a retired teacher and as the Partnership Coordinator, coordinates one of Global G.L.O.W.’s biggest programs in Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD). School is not starting there until September 8th and when it does, students and parents will have the option to learn remotely or attend school in person.
In both Detroit and California the schools are working hard to overcome technological challenges for girls. In vulnerable communities like these, it’s not guaranteed that students will have access to a computer, strong Wi-Fi or even a desk in their home where they can work. To combat these challenges, DPSCD has given all students computers, and wonderfully, the students get to keep them! They’ve also created a system for getting Wi-Fi to communities who don’t have access—their school buses have Wi-Fi, so the bus drivers drive to neighborhoods and park there, from 9am-5pm daily so students can have internet access.
While GALS has been able to work with families on an individualized basis, they are struggling to help families with free internet access. They’ve tried to help families by working with broadband companies who’ve advertised providing free internet access, but Vanessa, the Principal at GALS reports “It’s mostly a scam.” On top of this, many students were facing power surges due to the California heat wave in the first week of school and lost electricity all together—which can happen anywhere but happens much more frequently in low-income neighborhoods. Despite these barriers, GALS has worked to provide internet hot spots for students. Another challenging situation Vanessa’s students are facing is not having desks or quiet places to work. Sometimes students’ homes are small, and they may have younger siblings who are not yet in school, making it really difficult for students to concentrate. GALS has offered a few options to meet these needs on a case-by-case basis, including noise-canceling headphones and lap desks.
Elaina, a teacher and GLOW Club mentor sent a survey to all of her students asking them how they were feeling about the start of the year.The vast majority, Elaina reported, felt sad. “A few were excited or nervous,” she said, “But most were sad.” The students Carmen has talked to reported other strong emotions, such as loneliness. “They miss their friends, they want to get together. The seniors are terrified of missing out on their senior year— no prom, no friends.” Additionally, Carmen reports that mental health is a serious concern right now among students, and therefore Global G.L.O.W. mentors are working hard to stay connected to as many students as they can.
Unfortunately, many students (and mentors!) at both Global G.L.O.W. sites share in the devastating fact that they have lost family members due to the novel Coronavirus. When discussing the idea of moving from virtual classes to a hybrid in-person model and the risks involved, Elaina from GALS said: “We have a handful of kids who have lost family to Covid-19 already. Additionally, many families contain essential workers. I would be heartbroken if going back to an in-person version of school was a catalyst for students and families to suffer loss.”
Wonderfully, GLOW Clubs are about to start back up virtually in both of these schools, as well as in many schools around the U.S., to support girls during this unprecedented time. We hope this will make a significant, positive impact in the loneliness they are feeling. Carmen put it best when she said “This is the reason Global G.L.O.W. is successful in Detroit—we are consistent. We stay with the girls no matter what. We are always there, talking to the girls, making sure they know they can call their mentors.”