Wow. Wait. What?! — Personal Reflection on COVID-19, Educational Equity and Trauma

 In PERSPECTIVES

This blog post is part of a special series on COVID-19 and Educational Equity featuring the perspectives of advocates, partners and team members who belong to The Expectations Project family. This reflection is authored by Zakiya Jackson, our VP of Training and Resources.

“Wow. Wait. What?!” 

For me, those three words have encapsulated much of what I’ve seen, heard and felt over the last couple weeks. I am fortunate to have a scientist in my family who got me information early as pertains to COVID-19. I haven’t had to wait in lines that wrap around stores because we got any shopping done early. And I’ve had the means to buy what I need. Nonetheless, I have also felt the scariness of the urgency of the time we are in and honestly, I have felt the confusion too.

Like all of us, I have canceled plans, put events on hold, and wondered when I will see loved ones who live far away again. I have started lathering my hands in African Shea Butter because—WHEW!—the dryness is real with all this handwashing. This rapidly developing public health emergency has my mind racing with all the information, questions, fears—including: 

Big picture. WOW. What is happening is scary. WAIT. It’s happening all over the world? WHAT?! Folks are predicting WHAT!? My, my, my… Closer to home. Will my niece still be able to graduate in May? Will my elderly relatives be okay? Will my friends still have their wedding?  

Then there’s how all of this intersects with our public school system. WOW. We’re closing schools nationwide. WAIT. How is this going to affect our most vulnerable students—those who are already far behind academically, and/or whose trauma affects their learning? WHAT?! Our schools are the primary way low-income students get healthy meals… what about hunger?!

Read our statement on COVID-19 and Advocating for vulnerable students >> 

And so, as my mind swarms with ways in which COVID-19 impacts me and my loved ones, I also feel frustration that our nation lacks the policies and procedures to help all of us get through all of this—from our public schools to our public health institutions, we lack preventative and emergency measures to sustain our public infrastructure, economy, schools, and our very lives. 

Will we all get through this? And at what cost—both financially, and in terms of collective and individual trauma? Trauma always exposes the depth, or lack thereof, of resources available to the traumatized. 

Think about it.  

Having resources doesn’t mean you don’t experience trauma. Having resources—and utilizing them—means you have a greater opportunity to respond to the trauma without it altering your ability to function healthfully long term. Even if you are disrupted significantly in the short term, strong resources still means you have a greater resilience—a greater ability to “bounce back.”

But what if you don’t have strong enough resources? What if you have never had strong enough resources? What if your whole neighborhood, doctor’s office, and schools lack strong resources?  

COVID-19 is threatening for all of us. For people who live paycheck to paycheck and don’t know anyone who doesn’t, the threat can mean a catastrophe that will have long-lasting effects during the attempt to recover. For schools with lots of money and students that are well provided for, COVID-19 is very disruptive to their education. But for students in public schools that already don’t have therapists and counselors, that lack adequate basic resources (books, supplies, teachers), and that have a high number of students from economically oppressed families, COVID-19 is more than disruptive. It can break things because there’s no healthy margin for the trauma it brings. There’s no or not much extra (savings, support, energy).  

COVID-19 is an equity issue for many reasons. People in the greatest need have the least amount of quick options. Equity is about giving people what they need to thrive. Equity is not giving everyone the same thing. As a society we already aren’t prioritizing equity, so COVID-19 makes existing needs worse. Our infrastructure isn’t set up to protect people without margins for emergencies. Our infrastructure isn’t even set up very well for emergencies for folks who are not especially needy. COVID-19 is slamming our systems and exposing that they are inadequate.  

Read our weekly news round-up with stories on COVID-19, Education and Equity >>

So children, people of color, people who are not wealthy, people who are unemployed and underemployed will have less bounce-back capacity in this time. If we all had similar ability to bounce back—which our government could help ensure—then this wouldn’t be an equity issue.  

What can I do? Well, as I worry about my and my loved one’s needs, I am remembering that I have options in how to care for us at this time. I can also ask members of Congress and other political leaders to help. I can contribute to children and families in my city getting immediate short term aid. I can encourage and even pressure my church to act as responsibly as possible, ensuring that I provide as much good information as I can about how to deal with a public health crisis. I can use my voice to demand better from our governance at every level.  

It’s hard and yet together we can still innovate, demand, create, calm and persist. I’m encouraged by so many creative teachers (who are, as usual, the best). Today I watched a math lesson on Instagram live that was great! I saw an email another teacher sent all her students inviting them to email her as much as they need during this unexpected time away from school. Yesterday I spoke to a mental health clinician doing her best to still provide services to students and families. This is an overwhelming time and yet still we have the ability to support each other. 

Let’s do it.

I’d love to hear some ways in which you are providing for yourself and each other at this time.  Please feel free to share in the comments or email us at info@expectations.org.

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