Imagine all students starting their school days by eating a healthy breakfast, then jumping on their laptops to connect with their teachers through Google Classroom, then Facetiming with fellow students to complete their group projects. Imagine all parents knowing that their children are receiving the best educations despite classrooms having been moved from school buildings to living rooms. Imagine every teacher equipped with the training and knowledge to ensure that every student has the opportunity to succeed.
Unfortunately, this is not the reality for many students across the United States. Issues of equity become readily apparent when students go hungry because they no longer have school breakfast or lunch. Students may have been assigned a computer from school but the coffee shop or library where they used to connect to the internet to do their homework is no longer open. Or they are isolated in a rural area with limited broadband. The COVID-19 crisis has made the issue of education equity even more apparent.
Young people are the largest stakeholders in the achievement gap. And because they have the most at stake, they also are positioned to make the most profound change. Once exposed to the roots of the issue, they tend to want to learn more about educational equity, to identify solutions, and to serve as change agents in their schools and communities. Analyzing the factors that contribute to the achievement gap enables students to begin to understand how they can affect it.
So, what can students do today to help address issues facing themselves and their fellow students?
- Investigate – What is happening in the community? Survey fellow students to learn about the challenges they are facing; research the community to see what resources are offered; then decide which issue to address.
- Plan and Prepare – Make a plan for how to tackle the issue. Will it require a budget? A timeline? What resources (volunteers, community experts, technology, etc.) will it take to address the issue?
- Action – Put the plan into action.
- Reflect – Reflect on what worked, what didn’t and then…
- Demonstrate – Share with others. Use hashtag #youth4ed on Twitter, tag @nylcorg on Facebook and Instagram, share the story with the local press and with NYLC.
Youth innovation on issues affecting equity will lead to lasting change. By addressing just one factor of the achievement gap, young people and adults can influence the overall outcome of a student’s academic achievement and may be able to affect other factors that are critical to the overall learning experience. The story “Oxford Student Sets Up Volunteer Tutoring Service” is a great example of how students can create solutions to inequity. Student Jacob Kelly set up an initiative to connect college students with school students in need of tutoring services. He has more than 300 volunteers making an impact on the lives of students. Another example comes from StuVoice, a youth-led organization addressing education equity, which has created a petition to colleges and universities to create more equitable admissions process due to the cancellation of ACT and SAT tests. COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates pre-existing inequities in college access, it is critical that urgent action is taken to ensure low-income, minority and other underrepresented student groups have equitable access to the admissions process.