The recent COVID-19 health pandemic has exposed the weaknesses and strengths of our education system. All levels of the academy have made a massive shift from traditional teaching formats to fully virtual in a moment’s notice. In doing so, it has revealed the resolve and creativity of Christian educators who gave new life to lesson plans and learning outcomes through technology. However, it also reminded us of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in Christian education.
One of the major decisions schools had to make within a short time frame was that of going to an online format and when to do it. As with most major decisions, often we do not fully think through “who” it will impact and “how,” because in a crisis we just need a solution. These decisions could present some challenges to some of our students and their families. Our goal is to stimulate thought so that all of our students are set up for success. Our prayer is that you are able to provide a voice for those who may not be “thought of” during your school’s decision-making process.
Equity vs. Equality
As diversity practitioners, the terms equality and equity are often thrown around and debated. Memes and videos have been created, trainings have been offered, and systems have been assessed all surrounding the words equity and equality. These terms also created a good discussion last year at the Christian Educators Diversity Symposium at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy. So, what is the difference between equity and equality and why is it especially important right now?
We first need to better understand these words and their meaning in diversity, equity, and inclusion work. A popular meme was created to help visualize the differences (below); it is one you have probably seen many times. This short video by the University of Maine’s Rising Tide Center also offers a good explanation on the differences.
With the current situation in most all of our schools of moving learning to online, the questions surrounding equality and equity arise. Below are some examples along with questions that hopefully help stimulate thoughts for you and your community. In order for us to properly provide equity to our students, especially now, we will need to operate through the lens of empathy and with a heart of compassion. Empathy will give us the ability to match resources to the individual needs of all our students which in turn will aid in their overall success. Lastly, compassion will fuel what we do when others say it is not worth it or not necessary.
When we had to shift teaching formats swiftly, some teachers excelled at adapting assignments for online use while some may have had challenges. Keeping this in mind, it is important to think through the need for adapting to a virtual format and not simply using resources and teaching methods that were common in the traditional classroom. In addition, when lessons were prepared for the traditional classroom setting, learning styles were considered. This continues to be a very important aspect to online learning including how material is taught and how content mastery is assessed. To ensure academic equity, it is important to keep in mind that not all students were prepared for online learning, but all students can learn if we strive for an equitable mindset. Some reflection questions to consider:
- Are we giving students the same traditional assignments or can we utilize other ways of learning content that better fit with the virtual format as well as the needs of our students?
- Are there different ways to monitor student growth?
- Have we considered the diversity of learning styles while preparing online lessons?
The National Center for Education Statistics published a study in 2018 that found 94% of children between the ages of 3 and 18 had computer access and 61% had internet access at home in the year 2015. When broken down, families with higher incomes and higher levels of education made up most of those who reported having technology and internet access at home. Those children in homes who did not have access reported it was due to cost or being located in a geographic area that did not have reliable internet service.
While it is hard to fathom in 2020 that people do not have internet access or access to devices, it is a reality for some of our students and their families. Many students who do have computers or tablets may not have up-to-date software or technical capability to do extensive online work. Likewise, while there are some resources available through various internet companies, such as free or reduced cost for hotspots, it is important to research how accessible these are based on where the families live and the requirements for accessing these benefits. Questions to ask include:
- Do all of our students have access to technology so they are able to complete these assignments?
- Do students have adequate access to internet service?
- Do they have access to printers and other technologies that are needed to be academically successful?
- Does the student or someone in the home have working knowledge of software and technology?
Some of our families may have one or both parents working from home offices and some may have parents who are in careers that are not able to work from home. If this happens, oftentimes an older sibling (who likely is also a student) or another adult is asked to step in to help with younger children. In these circumstances, teachers should consider giving extended time for deadlines to older students who are also assisting younger siblings.
A recent NPR article noted that four out of 10 teens reported not doing any online learning since schools closed. There are many causes for this, but it should be noted that watching younger siblings, dealing with other stressors, and the overall pandemic worry itself have contributed to this issue. One notable gap is that 47% of public school students reported not doing work compared to 18% of private school students. Consider these reflection questions in regard to your students:
- Are parents able to work from home?
- What industry are the parents working in? (first responder, service industry, health care)
- While children are staying home, will parents be able to care for their children based on work schedules?
- How will younger students’ learning be monitored and will they need assistance finding the programs necessary for them to learn?
We feel the most important thing you can do is actually ask if a student has a need since each family is unique. A simple survey can be a great way to collect information about family needs and then you can match them with resources available. Local food pantries, nonprofit organizations, and churches are stepping up and providing free meals to students who will go without lunches due to school campuses shutting down; consider having a list of resources such as free lunches available for families in need. Make sure you are checking in on students intentionally and focus on families who are at potential risk for hardships during this time.
The pandemic has done more than just disrupt our daily lives; it has in some ways exposed our processes and how we treat those that are marginalized and have potential to be left behind. Diversity, equity, and inclusion in Christian schools are always hot topics. We have worked with many schools on diversity plans and strategic planning, we often talk about student development, teacher recruitment, and even crisis management, but we have not talked about pandemics or simple emergency management. Moving forward we would advise now that diversity, equity, and inclusion be considered intentionally in emergency management conversations.
Current discussions in education at all levels center on whether this is a “once-in-a-lifetime” global pandemic, or if COVID-19 may resurface over the coming months until a successful vaccine is deployed. If the latter is the case, schools may have to toggle between in-person and online learning in the coming school year. In the event that happens, and we have to immediately return to online learning, we should be prepared to ask the questions we shared above. These questions will help us to consider who our decisions affect, how it affects them, and how we make sure everyone has equitable access and a chance for success.
Empathy and Compassion
The need for equity is more important than ever. COVID-19 is not a respecter of persons, and much like God is not either, we have found ourselves at home isolated yet bonded by the same challenge. In order for us to properly provide equity to our students, especially now, we will need to operate through the lens of empathy and with a heart of compassion. Empathy will give us the ability to match resources to the individual needs of all our students which in turn will aid in their overall success. Lastly, showing compassion—just as Jesus Christ did so many times for those in need—will fuel what we do when others say it is not worth it or not necessary.
In this effort, we can find hope in the Word of God, specifically in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV): Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. Be encouraged, and know that our heavenly Father will comfort you as you comfort others with compassion.
[Editor’s Note: ACSI is a sponsor of the Christian Educators Diversity Alliance Virtual Symposium, with weekly sessions running May 7 through June 30. Find more information and register here.]
About the Authors
Jenny Brady brings a unique perspective to the diversity discussion. Jenny is currently serving as the director of Diversity for Prestonwood Christian Academy, a position created to express her passion for diversity while combining her personal experience growing up on the mission field in Honduras. She holds an MS in sociology and a BA in Spanish. In the educational realm, Jenny has worked as a teacher and administrator, and is on the Leadership Team at PCA. She is the co-creator of the Christian Educators Diversity Alliance and is a speaker, teacher, author, and trainer on diversity for schools across the country. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Dr. Kenneth M. Chapman Jr. currently serves as a higher education administrator, associate pastor, and inclusiveness consultant. Kenneth earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations: mass communication from the University of Central Oklahoma (2007), a master’s of education from the University of Oklahoma (2012), and a doctorate of philosophy (PhD) from the University of Oklahoma (2018). Kenneth’s research interests are in school equity, diversity, and inclusiveness. Kenneth has conducted research studies on minority male student success, Christianity, and race, and he focuses on helping organizations embrace, employ, and engage in kingdom diversity practices. Kenneth is married to Kimberley Kierra Chapman and resides in Frisco, Texas, with their sons. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.