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The Privilege of Virtual Learning

Blog post written by
Derek Francis
Manager of Counseling Services

Making the transition to online counseling in response to COVID-19 has presented many challenges for school counselors. Existing disparities such as the achievement and opportunity gap magnify in the virtual setting. School academic leadership departments find themselves trying to figure out how we can continue the momentum to close the achievement gap or connect with underrepresented students.  During this virtual learning period it is important to understand the difference between equality and equity. Equality is treating students the same and having equal access to resources and opportunities. Equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful. Counselors and school support staff have an opportunity to advocate and be a voice for students and families that have historically not felt heard. Below are three suggestions for continuing equity work during COVID-19.  

  1. The United States of America has an ongoing relationship with racism and that unfortunately has been on display during COVID-19.  The pandemic began in Wuhan, China which has led to some Asian American students and staff experiencing an increase of hate, bias and microaggressions. According to ABC News, “The FBI is also warning local law enforcement around the country of a potential surge in hate crime incidents against Asian Americans because of coronavirus fears.”  Matters of race are in the fabric of what school counselors are called to do because it is central to students’ social emotional development. Race impacts how students feel emotionally and interact socially. School counselors must lead this work. Talking about race in the classroom is still a challenge for many educators. Regardless of the types of students you work with and the setting that you are in, all students need to learn about the impact of racism during COVID-19. The Power of Words during COVID-19 is a timely equity lesson you can use to help students understand addressing bias during COVID -19.

  1. Privilege is something I have been aware of during this pandemic. Having a comfortable home to live in, consistent income, a computer and Wi-Fi are things I sometimes take for granted. Many students around the country find themselves trying to do homework assignments on their cellphones. Having a computer or multiple computers at home is a privilege and the biggest hurdle of distance learning. Libraries and community centers are closed. Educators have known which students are the “haves” and “have nots,” but COVID-19 brought those gaps into the spotlight. Counselors must be intentional about supporting the most underserved students. Sadly, data shows lower socioeconomic students graduate and attend post-secondary at a lower rate than their wealthier peers. Review your data on students from underrepresented populations and maybe reach out to students who speak English as a second language, or do not have the best attendance, or parents who may be new to the country. Think about other identities or factors that may be impacting students differently now. Events like COVID-19 might be hitting these students a little harder. Validate and encourage them. 

  1. Continue with supporting college and career readiness for first generation and students of color.  Imagine being the first in your family to go to college and now you must figure out financial aid, potentially leaving home and navigating an entirely new learning environment, virtually. For your students who do not have the safety and support of family and friends who have navigated college previously, the transition can be extra challenging. One key to effective online teaching is having an online presence. Be accessible to your students. Doing equity work during COVID-19 means finding students of color and other underrepresented students and encouraging them to take higher level or dual enrollment classes and aligning support. Students’ schedules are an opportunity to be challenged and reach higher potential and access. Do your higher level classes have representation of various racial backgrounds? Make a list of students who you could meet with virtually to present the opportunity. Continue supporting college readiness by creating small groups where students can share what worries they have about navigating a future roommate of a different cultural background or attending college in a completely new environment.  

There is not a perfect playbook or exhaustive list about how to remain equity focused. However, it is important to start imagining what educating EACH student looks like, opposed to ALL students. Build a relationship with students and practice cultural humility to gain better understanding. Continue to find opportunities to learn what challenges marginalized populations are facing. Several organizations are providing professional development webinars. The American School Counselor Association recently hosted Cross-cultural Counseling: Understand Bias and Practice Humility. Let’s use this period to learn skills to equitably serve students virtually and continue when we return to school.

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