October 1, 2020
Parenting During a Pandemic
By Zoe Henriquez
Around our country, many parents, myself included, have had conversations with their children about privilege, addressing the benefits we receive and advantages we have access to simply by our birth. When I’ve had these conversations with my own two kids, especially as a white woman, it’s centered around how we can use our race to stand up for others in their fight for social justice and equality. We also talk about how we can individually recognize and celebrate the diversity in our own community and how our community does that collectively. (For example, our elementary school every other year hosts International Day, a celebration of our school community’s diversity. Past years have included representation from more than 35 countries, with families sharing food, traditional clothing, music and dance from their cultures.)
In recent months, though, I realized that our privilege isn’t just about our race. It extends further than that. We also have the privilege of access to education, which is directly linked to the wealth of a community.
My town was among the first in the nation to see the full impact of this pandemic. Like many others that followed, our schools went remote more than six months ago. As a parent, COVID-19 not only brought out a fear about my family’s health but educational, social and emotional fears for my children as their school buildings closed. Would there be major learning loss? What about the emotional losses from not being able to gather with their peers and spending so much time in front of a screen? What impact would schools closing have on our kids?
To say we were unprepared is an understatement. It felt like chaos and a gamble with our kids’ futures at stake. And while it has been hard, especially as a single parent, to feel prepared to do my full-time job well and oversee two kids at home who still needed to pass their classes, it’s forced me to look at privilege with a new perspective. We know that this crisis is impacting our children globally in disparate ways, with a greater hardship for the most vulnerable. The United Nations estimates nearly 1.6 billion learners around the globe have been impacted by this pandemic, with schools closing their doors to students. Additionally, UNICEF estimates millions more children will be at risk of being pushed into labor, reversing decades of gains for education and combatting child labor. A New York Times report found the many children forced into labor, often illegally, perform dangerous jobs and are unlikely to return to the classroom when schools reopen.
Living near a major city with economic extremes, I was able to see what privilege looks like under the most dire of circumstances. In my state alone, research shows Black parents who are low-income are more likely to find remote learning less successful. With each article I read, as this pandemic continues on I’m more acutely aware how lucky I am to be able to educate my kids even with COVID-19 continuing to impact their education. My job is stable and allows me to work remotely, ensuring my kids are safe and that I can nag them to get to the virtual classroom when it’s time.
And yet I know that more than 11 million kids have no afterschool supervision during the most normal of times and likely none during school now. I have the supplies I need to engage my kids with their schools: a spare home computer, an iPad and wireless service. Students in my town who did not have access to those were able to get equipment from the schools. I worry, though, for students across this country who don’t have those tools. A study from Microsoft last fall shares that 162 million people in our country aren’t using or don’t have access to broadband, a tool that is needed for our students to keep up with their peers. This is especially true in underserved and rural areas.
We know, too, that COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted families of color, often because of economic disparity. The pandemic has brought on struggles for my friends, my family and our village, but from an educational perspective, my concerns were minor compared to many other parents’. Our kids may have lost momentum, but they will likely catch up. What about those left behind? My heart breaks for them; my heart breaks for those parents for whom remote learning means no learning at all, and for those who have to make a choice between supervising their kids or providing a meal for them. As hard as things seem to me, as I try to maintain balance during back-to-school season, I realize that that my kids have both consistency and safety opportunities that aren’t guaranteed to everyone.
When I spoke to my children previously about privilege, I was able to talk about the problem and potential solutions. With the education-related inequalities presented by COVID-19, I’m starting a new conversation – one that I don’t readily have solutions to share with my kids. My hope is that I, and my kids, continue to recognize that our privilege gives us the ability to navigate the world in ways different than those who are oppressed. With that mindset, I hope we can identify some ways to make things better. Together, with my community, I’m aiming to use our privilege to help those around us educate our country’s children and remember to have hope. And that might be the biggest privilege of all.
Zoe Henriquez is Vice President, Strategic Alliances & Development, at RISE.