When board of Atlanta Public Schools (APS) made the tough decision to close schools to reduce the spread of COV-19, overnight the homes of its 54,946 enrolled students became make-shift classrooms. Unfortunately, not all homes are created equal.
The children living at Summerdale Apartments in our Star-C program attend Cleveland Elementary, and we currently house approximately 63 students or 20% of the school population. 100% of its students rely on the federal “free and reduced” lunch program for meals.
Effective classroom teaching and learning requires expensive resources. School supplies, nutritious meals, computers/technology and tutoring in a safe supervised environment are critical to equalize education, regardless of family income. APS has done a commendable job delivering these critical resources in the classroom; however, for the children in their apartments at Summerdale, these resources are simply not available.
Let’s start with digital access. During this pandemic, APS is providing instructional lessons through “Google Classroom”, an on-line portal that links teachers, students and lessons, accessible through a laptop and internet. Unfortunately, almost two years after we purchased Summerdale, many of our apartment buildings don’t have internet wiring, despite our diligent efforts with our cable provider. But internet access almost doesn’t matter because only 3 students attending Cleveland Elementary have access to a home computer. Rent, utilities, food, medicine and student loans take priority over computers and technology, when you are living on $26,500 per year.
Without access to their teachers and classroom instruction, what are our Star-C Summerdale students doing with their time? Most are isolated at home under the supervision of a sibling or great grandparent, because the single-parent earner is working their “essential” hourly job on poverty wages and praying the federal stimulus packages bring relief. APS has offered devices and “hot spots” for all its students, but without supervision or technology proficiency, the home learning environment is challenging.
What are we doing with our time? We are getting ready! We have a wonderful partnership with Cleveland Elementary and Ms. Kristen, our Star-C director who runs our free after-school and summer camp programs, is gearing up for the additional tutoring required to bring these children back up to schedule, before the start of the 2020-2021 school year. Hopefully by then, Summerdale will be wired for internet access for all its residents and more solutions to narrow the digital divide.