Academic Inequity in a Pandemic

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Image from docwirenews.com.

Zack Hayes , Journalist

Amidst a global pandemic that has worn on many in communities across the country, educational equity issues have been more exposed than ever before. The unique circumstances under which we have been living have heightened challenges for many students to get the support they need to succeed in school. Despite education being a core American value, and essential for future financial and social freedoms, there are long-standing inequities in how this system works for students of lower socioeconomic status. The socioeconomic status of a student and their family often proves to be the most significant factor in determining a student’s success in school. 

Lack of family support is one of the issues for students in lower socioeconomic status. Rosy Aitken, an elementary school teacher in the North Thurston School District commented on this. “Kids in lower socioeconomic situations often do not have a parent who has the luxury of staying home, working from home, or hiring someone to help out with the student’s education,” said Aitken. “Therefore they just don’t have enough support afforded to them.” As many OHS students know first-hand, academic support from family members is often a key factor in keeping grades up and staying motivated in school. 

Other elements of lower socioeconomic status that challenge students and families are obligations such as work and childcare that may be assigned to a student. “Many students are expected and/or required to work jobs to provide for their family, which means that those students don’t have as much time and energy to spend on school,” said Grace Clarke, a junior at OHS. Additionally, students can struggle with other issues created by these inequities. “Socioeconomic status affects mental health which is shown to have correlation to academic success,” said Will Church, a senior at OHS

But, how can these problems be solved? How can students of lower socioeconomic status receive equitable access to quality education, and are school systems doing enough? Clarke shared her thoughts on the matter, saying “I think that the principal’s checkbook and free/reduced lunches are a great start, however there is always more that schools can do to support the needs of students. This comes from consistent feedback from families and students in need.” As Clarke points out, the Olympia School District, among other districts, does provide programs to help students with low income get the support they need. But it often isn’t enough. Aitken says that although schools do try their best to support these students, their efforts don’t cover every circumstance. The districts worked  last spring to try and get people on an even playing field with Chromebooks and internet. But this is still not equitable, because people still have poor Internet and inadequate spaces to work on.

The current pandemic has exposed inequities like never before, but also offers an opportunity to do better. Maybe, schools will use the lessons from this unique time to better support students of low socioeconomic status, supporting a more rounded, accessible, and diverse education for everyone.