Long Island parent worries school closures will affect her daughter’s kindergarten readiness
Families statewide are buckling down and taking on the task of educating students at home for the very first time. School closures have resulted in hundreds of school districts across the state implementing different forms of distance learning, with some schools not offering anything at all. There are already glaring variances in how ready young children are when they begin school. Those existing differences in readiness will only be further highlighted because of coronavirus.
Long Island, where my husband and I are raising our four-year-old daughter, differs from nearby New York City, where every three- and four-year-old is offered a high-quality early education as part of 3K For All and Universal Pre-Kindergarten programs. My daughter is fortunate to be a student in one of the few school districts on Long Island that offers Universal Pre-K with a five-hour day. But now, preparation for kindergarten in September has been stalled, if not curbed permanently.
While some Long Island towns offer Head Start, free universal 3K programs do not exist, and access to UPK programs varies widely in terms of accessibility and instructional duration across school districts. I know that a high-quality pre-kindergarten program provides a strong foundation for the academic and social skills that our daughter will need throughout her educational career. This kind of early educational start also helps to close the achievement gap, which is important for my young Black daughter and our family.
I was excited about the social and academic gains my daughter was making and her real-world preparation. While I recognize the great benefit my daughter had, I am keenly aware that her cousin in Brooklyn, who is the same age, has had an additional year of municipally-funded early education in New York City. He is more prepared to enter his kindergarten in September than she is. Even before COVID-19, children were starting their K–12 careers with varying levels of readiness. This fact is in combination with the vast differences in predictors of future success like location, socioeconomic status, and race/ethnicity. Yet, the variation in school district COVID-19 responses exacerbates these differences even more.
I am now working independently to make sure that my daughter’s academic gains before school closures are not lost. I’m lucky to have a computer and printer at home, as well as broadband internet connection to find educational videos online. I’m also fortunate that my job has not laid me off and I can work from home. The daycare center that is contracted through the school to provide the UPK class has sent just a few text messages with links to resources to help keep us on track for the four weeks that school has been closed so far. But that’s it. I’m lucky that my mom lives right upstairs so that I have child care if I need to make a work call since my husband is an essential worker. We’re lucky. We’re still ahead.
There are still so many things that I worry about. I wonder how families without broadband internet conduct remote learning. Or how families without reliable transportation can get grab-and-go meal programs. I’m afraid that many children will fall increasingly behind academically and social-emotionally. The brunt of these circumstances disproportionately and overwhelmingly affects Black communities. Black communities will experience sustained hardship in the aftermath of this pandemic, reinforcing barriers to academic success. These consequences will be especially dire if the state government goes through with trimming 20% of education funding. The experiences of those most heavily impacted must be present in solution-finding.
Very little can mitigate the risks posed by coronavirus, but there is work that can be done to lessen the impending impact. For now, I will continue working with my daughter at home to make sure she is ready for kindergarten. While I lament the disruption to the wonderful experience she was having before COVID-19, I remain grateful that my family is safe, healthy, and able to support her comfortably at home. I am confident that she will emerge from this experience as bright and excited about learning as she has always been. We must all commit ourselves to supporting the students who will have an even steeper climb to academic success because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Jackie Burbridge is a parent on Long Island who participates in The Education Trust–New York Parent Fellowship.