WASHINGTON – With a return to in-person instruction not in sight soon for D.C. public schools, there are concerns surrounding the effects remote education on students in low-income neighborhoods due to lack of resources and parental support.
Students in low-income neighborhoods in Washington, with heavy concentrations of Black and Latinx families, often rely on schools for emotional support, meals, transportation and technology. Students in Wards 7 and 8, which are east of the Anacostia River, live in households with lower incomes on average than those from Wards 1 through 6. The Anacostia River is the dividing line for the city, economically and racially. Ward 3 is the district’s richest neighborhood, with a 7% Black population and a median household income of $127,000, while Ward 8 has an 89% Black population and a median household income of $34,000.
Sidney Humble, who teaches pre-kindergarten students at Eagle Academy Public Charter School in Ward 8, is frustrated with the shortcomings of remote learning for students.
“It’s not the same in school as it is at home. [Students] are not retaining a lot of the information the teachers are teaching,” Humble said.
D.C. public schools have about 51,000 students, many of whom do not have adequate resources to successfully complete assignments. Some $17 million was invested into technology for remote learning and about 30,000 devices were provided to students in the district. Although this has led to a consistent virtual attendance rate of 92%, Humble said that out of the 17 students in her class, only three picked up new devices and only eight of them remain in the online lesson for the duration of the call.
Giani Clarkson, a teacher at Paul Public Charter School, said that many of his students do not have the devices to successfully complete assignments and attend virtual instruction. To complete assignments, many of his students opt to use their cell phones to get work done, which is not always conducive for specific assignments.
Clarkson said that one of the students in his class explicitly told him she was unable to do her virtual work because she lives in a one-bedroom apartment with five other family members; her family was often without a meal at night, as well as Wi-Fi.
Julie Muir is a stay-at-home mother and has two sons who attend Miner Elementary school in Ward 6.
“Virtual learning is completely horrible for those who don’t have a [home] situation like us,” Muir said.
She said that the achievement gap in Washington’s public school is already an issue and virtual instruction has exacerbated those disparities. Her first-grade son is testing above his grade level, but she worries that Black students, who make up 80% of the population at Miner, are most likely suffering in response to virtual instruction.
“When you talk about demographics, all of our children are African American,” Humble said. “The younger parents that we have are just not as invested [in their child’s education].”
Humble added that parents of many of her students have come out and expressed that they don’t have the time to assist their children with virtual instruction. Many of the parents have a “survival” mentality and are more focused on paying the rent or mortgage.
“There’s a different dynamic between Ward 1 and Ward 8 and although the dynamic is different, it is up to the parents to remain consistent and fight for what their kids need,” Humble said. “It’s not a lack of resources, it’s a lack of parents advocating for their children. A school can only do so much.”