ATLANTA — Many metro Atlanta students are struggling with online learning. Black, Latino and low-income families who are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19 are being hit especially hard.
According to an analysis from the consulting group McKinsey and Company when you take into consideration all the challenges students are facing, the average student could fall behind seven months academically. That average is 10 months for black children and nine months for Latinos.
For mother of three Eboni Walker, virtual learning is a full-time job.
“I was working before the pandemic, but I actually made a transition right prior to the pandemic to be home with my children. I am a stay at home mom which is a blessing because not everyone gets that opportunity,” Walker said.
As soon as the coronavirus hit, more than 55 million K-12 students across the country quickly made the transition from in-person instruction to remote learning from home.
But for many low-income families, including some in metro Atlanta, this type of learning has proven to be the latest example of education inequality.
According to a report prepared by civil rights and education groups, nearly a quarter or one in four of all Georgia households are without high-speed home internet access to support online learning.
But it’s even worse for minorities. 28.8% of black households, 38.9% of Latinos and 37.4% of American Indian and Alaska native households are all facing the same problems.
When it comes to computers, 11% of all Georgia households are without them. 14.8% of black families, 15.5% American Indian and Alaska native and 21.8% Latino households in Georgia don’t have computers.
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But for Gwinnett County mother Alece Coleman and her husband the decision to pull their five-year-old daughter from remote learning came to childcare. They struggled to find help until they turned to social media.
“There are so many free Facebook groups, so many free Instagram pages and so many wonderful YouTube educators,” Coleman said.
She joined the Facebook group “Raising Leaders” a free public forum connecting brown and black communities with resources ranging from teachers and tutors to babysitters and pandemic pods.
Nikolai Pizarro de Jesus created the group before coronavirus hit. But six months into the pandemic, she said members whose children were excluded from pandemic pods, which are predominately white and may be expensive to join, are now partnering with families in their own communities.
“What we try to find is parents I can come together and find maybe a childcare provider which could be a friend, a college student, somebody that is much more affordable. And then what I do is, I support your provider which is low cost and give them the tools they need so that they can do that work and support it,” Pizarro de Jesus said.
Some families have become so frustrated by the lack of available resources that they have decided to pull their children from traditional public schools and enroll them in online schools like AYA Educational Institute in Stone Mountain.
“Our curriculum is designed particularly for what’s generally called urban youth, what we call African children,” said AYA Educational Institute’s Co-Director Wekesa Madzimoyo, who has been teaching middle and high school aged children for nearly two decades.
“You don’t have to leave your blackness and black concerns at home. In fact, we use those concerns to stimulate not only interest but academic prowess,” Madzimoyo said.
That approach helped AYA graduates Nadir Sherrod and Farasha Simmons succeed at their four-year universities.
“With AYA we were given a lot of times collegiate resources to research information to compile it in all of my classes from economics to social studies, English, math that we had to write. There was a lot of writing, a lot of research. And going forth, I graduated high school a year early,” said Simmons.
“And I think what was revolutionary or just a game changer for me was the amount of investment into my personal ancestry and also into just understanding like it is getting a personal connection to each subject,” Sherrod said.
Despite concerns the pandemic could have a lasting negative effect on the futures of children of color, Coleman says she is determined to do what it takes to give her child equal opportunities.
“There’s a whole community of us that are dedicated and fighting for our children’s rights to learn,” said Coleman.
When it comes to improving computer and high-speed internet access, Atlanta Public Schools, where more than 77% of students qualify for free or reduced lunches, has issued 24,000 computers to students since the pandemic began. That is in addition to the 15,000 devices given to students before COVID-19.
Cherokee County Schools, where 29% of students qualify for free or reduced lunches, gave families the choice to go back to the classroom. The district leased about 1,100 laptops for students.