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June 30, 2020

By Kira Ratan–

This past May, as families remained quarantined in their homes, the Westchester Children’s Association sent out two surveys to determine how parents and school districts were coping with home learning. The results indicate significant gaps in access to technology, a key component of home learning, and greater need for psychological resources in less affluent communities.

Westchester Children’s Association (WCA) is a multi-issue child advocacy non-profit that seeks to ensure that every child is healthy, safe, and prepared for life’s challenges, regardless of race, gender, or zip code. Officials at WCA expected there to be disparities as COVID-19 hit minority communities disproportionately across the country.

According to Allison Lake, executive director of WCA, “Prior to the pandemic, leading issues included solving youth homelessness, social justice in schools, and creating a positive learning environment for everyone.” Two surveys were conducted in order to get a better understanding on approximate numbers and percentages in local communities.

The superintendent’s survey received responses from 28 out of 40 school districts in the county, and the parent’s survey, which was released in Spanish and English, received an overwhelming total of 969 responses.

As the COVID-19 outbreak in America began to ramp up in early March, Lake figured this situation was going to last longer than just a few weeks. So, she arranged a meeting with a group of stakeholders, including many officials from several different school districts as well as the head of the Superintendent’s Association to help put together a plan for learning strategies in Westchester during the  COVID-19 lockdown. “We brought together this group of stakeholders in order to gain more information to understand where the holes and gaps were [for online learning plans],” Lake said.

The idea of a survey was mentioned as a way to hear directly from parents what types of issues they were facing with their child’s online learning experience. “Schools across Westchester are all resourced very differently and have different situations and populations. So, we wanted to make the survey as broad as possible and reach as many people,” said Lake, “And I’m pretty pleased with the turnout.”

As survey results began coming in, patterns quickly emerged confirming the growing disparity between wealthier and low-income families in the county. Key findings include one statistic showing that families in City Districts were almost three times as likely to request a computer for their families for online learning (31%) as opposed to families in non-city districts (11%). Additionally, according to Lake, families living in City Districts often had the hardest time finding areas with Wi-Fi that were available to use over anything else during remote learning.

In the Superintendent Survey, school districts were asked what else families needed at this time.  Four of the eight school districts that responded focused on the need to provide mental health services for the parents and the children. Lake agreed with concerns about emotional trauma and the need for mental health services in the future and held a virtual online session to discuss the social and emotional support that families may need moving forward.

“I think we’re all feeling a sense of loss and until we deal with the social and emotional issues facing us in September, we can’t even begin to look at the academic side. So, we’re going to have to build up kids socially and emotionally; getting counselors into schools will be more important than ever because these could be long-time scars,” Lake said.

Now that the full set of results have come back, the next step for WCA will be to return to the stakeholders with all the findings and begin to brainstorm ways to bridge the gaps seen in Westchester as they prepare for September. “Although it’s still very much a moving target and much of what will happen in September is unknown, we’re going to continue to point out what needs to be fixed, because that’s our job as child advocates,” Lake said.

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