It’s estimated that 1.2 billion students around the world were out of the classroom this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic; 55 million of them being children from the United States, according to the World Economic Forum. The use of certain technologies and video conferencing platforms has obviously been a great help for many, however, for others, this pandemic has exposed the dark reality that many children in this country face every day when it comes to their education.
The Federal Communications Commission has estimated that it would take $40 billion to close the gap between households with proper internet access and those without it. Many kids have also been struggling to acquire notebooks, laptops, calculators, and other devices that are seen as a necessity to continue out an education during this global health crisis, however, this issue has existed in America long before the coronavirus appeared. Certain communities and school systems struggle every year to work with bare minimum funding while other schools a few towns over are given hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide the best technology and education to its students.
These inequalities exist in the most in lower-income neighborhoods that are predominantly African American or non-white. For example, in terms of the Covid-19 pandemic, a study revealed that 40% of African American Students and 30% of Hispanic students in the U.S. K-12 school system received no online schooling instruction, compared to only 10% of white students. The reality is that this issue has existed in America long before the pandemic, and the types of inequalities that exist within the education system is what leads to major gaps in graduation rates among Black and other non-white communities in general.
Harmel Codi is the Chair and Founder of the non-profit organization Community Alliances and Improvements, which works directly with these underfunded schools and communities, and the students within them, in order to provide the education and technology they need to acquire early literacy skills and keep them on the right path until graduation. According to Codi, in more underfunded schools you tend to see a lack of motivation to want to continue to learn around 3rd grade. This can be caused by a multitude of things such as familial issues, oversized classes, lack of access, etc. The problem appears when this lack of motivation gets disciplined, forcing kids to go to detention or endure suspension and stunting their education even further. Codi went on to explain how within this system kids are more likely to end up in juvenile detention centers, “and because they’re either illiterate or can’t read at the same level as their counterparts,” are less likely to get a job and pursue an education again after.
“When you look at the population of high schoolers who were sent to the principal more, weren’t able to graduate, and how many of those entered into the juvenile justice system, it’s all relative.”
“To put it simply, when kids are going into middle school and high school, we look at the quality of education and how the teachers are teaching and the prejudices that appear between teachers and students based on past disciplinary experiences, which then in turn causes these kids to be sent to the principal more.” This is the start of a systemic issue that’s existed in America for quite some time. Some individuals refer to it as the School To Prison Pipeline, and Codi and her organization are doing everything in their power to at least shed light and educate those who may be ignorant to it so that it can be further combatted.
“Once you enter into the juvenile justice system, you always leave as a bigger criminal, it doesn’t get better, because you find bigger criminals in that setting and they manipulate, mold, and teach you how to fend for yourself illegally more. It’s an endless cycle.” Codi went on to explain that when you actually talk to the individuals in those systems and ask them why they originally committed whatever crime they did the answer is normally always out of necessity, not desire to do wrong. Whether it be stealing food out of hunger, technology for proper access to a Zoom call, etc. regardless, it all roots back to access and funding.
The systemic issues that exist within these schools clearly carry a much greater impact for these individuals in the long run, and that’s why Codi wants to go all the way back to the beginning of this cycle that delays students of color and Black students ability to continue their education; which would be early literacy education. Codi recently announced the publication of her highly anticipated children’s book series which is focused on promoting the joys of reading and learning to at-risk children.
She published 11 storybooks, each of which focus on a particular area of learning and reading. The books are designed to bring back that motivation that the education system tends to strip from at-risk kids. Codi explained that she taught her own kids to read by showing them that other kids were out in libraries and learning how to read as well, so now that we’re in a pandemic and kids can’t get that same in-person motivation from their peers, she wanted to “trigger that through books.”
“We must level the playing field for Black and Brown children so they can speak, read and write at an equal level to their peers.”
On a community level, Codi believes that educating children, and parents, through literature is the best way to start these conversations among demographics that may not normally be impacted by these systemic issues. “There is a parallel need to educate parents and caregivers, explaining why literacy and a solid education are important to their children’s future and well-being.” Her storybooks use colorful and engaging graphics that hold the attention of early readers while promoting literacy and joint storytelling among guardians and their kids.
When one part of a community is suffering due to lack of funding and educational resources, the entire community will eventually suffer as a result. Codi compared it to when we get sick, and if we only feel symptomatic on one half of our bodies, we wouldn’t just ignore it because the other half of our body is feeling good, we would fix the problem so the body overall can function better. So when we discuss education inequalities, we need to look at all sides of the issue and where certain areas are suffering and why that is.
“Most states spend between $2,800 and $6,500 per child yearly for education, yet $28,000 to $35,000 to incarcerate juveniles and adults. I have written these books to inspire learning. No one should wait for their kids to start school to learn how to read. Our children will be able to hold their own and one day be great candidates for college, graduate schools and competitive careers.” Reading those numbers is staggering, but necessary because it’s individuals with privilege, in white communities, that have constant access to funding and a proper education, that need to be doing the work to educate themselves so that they can combat these issues within their own communities, and it starts at home.
When it comes down to it, we all take our literacy for granted. The whole reason we can all function in society is because we have the ability to read and comprehend. This then impacts things like community, state, and federal elections, because the individuals who aren’t as literate or able to comprehend the issues as well as a traditionally educated individual aren’t even voting for candidates that they really want to vote for. This is just a piece of the greater mission that Community Alliances & Improvements is working towards, in fact, the proceeds that the books make will go towards the organization and its many helpful services and tools it provides to at-risk communities.
By publishing these children’s books Codi is hoping to slow down that long process of illiteracy, crime and disadvantages in terms of being politically engaged. She also hopes that when individuals go to purchase the books they’ll take the time to read a little bit about Community Alliances and Improvements, Inc. to further educate themselves on the importance of keeping their kids motivated with their reading, and themselves educated on the systemic issues that are stunting the development of so many at-risk youths in this country.
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