On March 10, Jaelen King ‘22 and Isaac Yearwood ‘22 finished the first few rounds of a heated water pong tournament during spring break in Florida, celebrating the temporary recess from classes. One Target run later, notifications of NBA cancellations, possible travel bans, and Yale’s movement to remote learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic flooded their phones.

The fun was over. 

While the two parted ways, with King flying home to South Carolina and Yearwood gathering his belongings on campus, together they began exploring ways to mitigate the struggles of New Haven community members during the pandemic—specifically fellow students. When Risë Nelson, Director of the Afro-American Cultural Center and Assistant Dean of Yale College, emailed King regarding the misfortune of hundreds of New Haven Public Schools students lacking computer access, King catalyzed the swift development of a fundraiser to buy laptops for NHPS students: Chromes for Kids.

In an interview with The Politic, Yearwood said, “Since [school is] all online, if you really don’t have access to technology, this is a fairly impossible endeavor [for NHPS students]. Remote learning is already difficult for some students, but if you don’t have access to technology, that just makes it exponentially more difficult.” Yearwood continued to explain, “We said this is an issue that we can and want to attack. And that’s basically how it got off the ground.” 

Inspired to action by Nelson’s email, on May 4 King launched the Chromes for Kids campaign via GoFundMe. Since then, it has since raised $6,785 in donations, due largely in part to the leadership of and promotion via social media from members of the Yale Black Men’s Union, of which King is President, the Nu Gamma Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc, of which Yearwood is a member, and Zeta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc, of which Bernard Grant ‘21, another primary leader of the campaign, is a member. 

Other Yale student activists have led projects to support NHPS students, both through pre-existing organizations such as Yale PALS, a tutoring and mentoring group promoting enjoyable educational exploration, and new efforts. One such organization is a newly-developed tutoring network created by Yale Women’s Crew member Esha Bhattacharya ‘24 to connect Yale incoming first-years with struggling NHPS students and promote community prior to on-campus arrivals.

Even with the immediate support of grassroots efforts like these, the ongoing disruption to education holds long-term implications to in-person education nationally for the 50 million students now involved in remote learning. In the research report The COVID-19 Slide, the educational assessment and research organization NWEA forecasts that annual educational progress may slip as much as 30 percent for English, and even more for math. The risk for academic setbacks is even greater for those with unfit learning environments or lacking necessary support.

In his research, Ken Pugh, Associate Professor of Linguistics and Radiology, as well as the Director of Research at Yale’s Haskins Laboratories, warns that the seemingly temporary impacts of the pandemic could result in long-term effects, such as irreversible deficiencies due to weak academic foundations for younger students. Furthermore, school employees’ jobs may be at risk amid national budget cuts and layoffs. Finally, financial shortfalls in education even threaten the existence of small liberal arts colleges and state schools. Draining shutdowns and increased financial concerns of students are already forcing some permanent closures of college campuses across the U.S. These monumental changes, especially in school personnel, who have a tremendous impact upon the development of students, also breed concerns regarding the mental and emotional wellbeing of students. 

Beyond addressing the lack of technology that exacerbates these struggles, Chromes for Kids also illuminates the harrowing and longstanding reality of racial and socioeconomic disparities in American education. “Public Education Funding Inequity in an Era of Increasing Concentration of Poverty and Resegregation,” a 2018 briefing report released by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), states, “the highest-poverty districts receive an average of $1,200 less per-pupil than the lowest-poverty districts, and districts serving the largest numbers of students of color receive about $2,000 less per-pupil than districts who serve the fewest students of color.” Throughout the briefing report, the USCCR asserts that this funding discrepancy cripples the quality of education for students of color, with regards to quality courses, facilities, teachers, and general resources. In addition, while many low-income students need to prioritize familial obligations such as working or babysitting over education, wealthier students have the ability to focus on their studies, contributing to higher attendance rates in more affluent school districts. Chromes for Kids makes a small step in attempting to bridge this gap in resources by providing underprivileged, financially struggling, often minority students with access to technology. 

In his interview with The Politic, King reflected, “The technology disparity highlights the disparities already present that have affected minority communities for years. Other than [Chomes for Kids], we are working on trying to call for more action not only from organizations like ourselves, but also from the city, Yale, and big conglomerates that have access to large pockets of funding. It shouldn’t take an international pandemic for things to be better.”

As questions arise regarding potential school reopenings for the fall, elected officials and educators have begun blueprinting measures to safely allow for a transition back to in-person learning. These include amended calendars, smaller classes, staggered schedules, and social distancing in and out of the classroom. Despite the promise that these changes could reintroduce a semblance of normalcy, they will inevitably fail to eliminate all possibilities of exposure to the virus, and they could potentially hinder the quality of education. Furthermore, as students, schools, and parents adapt to these changes, productive learning could be further delayed. 

Restrictions on interactions between students also breed concerns regarding the essential social-emotional development and milestones that accompany schooling. Nonetheless, advocates for social-distancing measures such as smaller classes and more compact in-person instruction highlight the many benefits of individualized instruction. They argue that widespread support of such changes could bring  decades of efforts to minimize class sizes to fruition. 

While upholding education quality remains important, officials must prioritize the safety of students, and not only in regards to protecting them from COVID-19. Teachers are often a key point of contact in identifying and reporting child abuse and neglect, and this supervision is put at risk amid difficulties in remote education. While most states require individuals in child-related professions—notably in the education and health fields—to report observation, knowledge, or suspicion of child abuse, some go so far as to require every state citizen to be a mandatory reporter. Symptoms of physical, sexual, emotional, or negligent abuse often require great in-person interaction, such as observing and inquiring about unexplained injuries or sex-related remnants, tracing emotional or behavioral shifts alongside peers, or tracking unhealthy interactions or lack thereof between students and guardians. 

Amid the shift to remote learning, the percentage of child abuse reports has dropped by double-digits, even halving in numerous states across the country. During the heightened stress of the pandemic, the financial recession, and increased contact with past or prospective abusers, children can be placed at greater risk for maltreatment. In response, many senators, including Democratic Senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Elizabeth Warren, have banded together to demand greater emergency funding for the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act in a letter to Senate leaders. Additionally, various agencies, like the Department of Children and Family Services of Los Angeles County, have called upon the general community to report cases of child abuse.

Despite the somewhat deafening hardship plaguing the world and widespread fear regarding the future of education, hope lives in the community efforts—both in reform and in temporary relief—of Yale students and other activists alike. Times such as these highlight inequity and allow for activists to change the world, driving forward a more equitable community and a more-prepared tomorrow.

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