Giving Compass' Take:

• The pandemic offers public schools an opportunity for innovation when it comes to tackling the digital divide.

• How can donors bolster educators who are committed to building solutions during the pandemic? Where can funders help fill gaps for public school districts?

• Learn more about the challenges of the digital divide in the age of COVID-19. 

In all the raucous conversation circulating about schools reopening, one voice that is gravely missing from this conversation is that of the constituents who make up the population of New York City public schools. As an ESL teacher, I have always been the de facto voice of the immigrant families I serve. Their voices, as well as the majority of NYC public school families, are absent from this vital discussion. Many don’t have the luxury of forming elite pods, and many of their children will end up paying the price.

As a New York Public School teacher who is supposed to return to my classroom in the fall, I’ve seen firsthand the plans for reopening schools. The proposed model of hybrid teaching might be suitable for our suburban neighbors in Long Island and Westchester, but is not feasible in the numerous run-down, poorly ventilated school buildings in the New York City area. And these plans don’t go far enough to imagine how we can break the digital divide that has already arisen. Now is a moment in history where we can work together collectively to try to break those barriers, to make this time of digital exploration one where we can try to service all of our students better.

I’ve taught in public schools that are a mere ZIP code away in Brooklyn (Park Slope to Fort Greene), and seen a world of difference. Some have PTAs strong enough to fund entire teachers’ salaries, while others can’t afford erasers. Distance learning simply makes these disparities even more evident. The question we must face is: What are we going to do about it? Here are a few ideas.

We can modify the school year into terms and reassess after each one. It makes sense with classes scheduled to start this week that the money and energy reserved for possibly life-threatening learning should now be focused on better and more innovative solutions to online learning.

Perhaps we can use this digital age to have schools from different parts of the country converge and discuss the issues with each other—this could be a time for kids to connect around the nation. Programs that facilitate this kind of connection already exist, offered by platforms including the Digital Human Library, the World Bank, and of course, Zoom.

Read the full article about breaking the digital divide by Elana Rabinowitz at YES! Magazine.