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FunTimes Magazine

Philadelphia Region’s Educators Engage in Paradigm Shift During COVID-19

By Nana Ama Addo

COVID-19 has forced educational institutions to transform the way they teach. With educators from all age groups, lifestyles and backgrounds jumping headfirst into technology, education, for those with access, has become a digital classroom. Recently, FunTimes spoke to Philly region’s educators to get the inside scoop on the state of education in Philadelphia, and learn about the trials, triumphs and gaps in online education programming, including professional, educational and personal development, as well as ideas on how to battle a digital divide.

With 20 years of experience in the education sector, Raqueebah Burch, currently serves as a Principal in the William Penn School District in Lansdowne, PA. Raqueebah’s contributions to the education sector is diverse. She focuses on K-12 Education, Literacy, Teacher Coaching & Development, Talent Acquisition, Curriculum Implementation, Parent Engagement and building sustainable Community partnerships. She holds a PK-12 Pennsylvania Principal Certificate from Gwynedd Mercy University, a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, Public Relations and Advertising from Temple University, an MS. Ed in Educational Administration and a MS. ED in Elementary Education from Saint Joseph’s University. She shares her story with FunTimes.

How COVID-19 has impacted Raqueebah’s work as an educator:COVID-19 has dramatically impacted my work as an educator in aprofound way. Schools are a social institution based on interaction andrelationships. A devastating virus such as COVID has allowed social,racial, economic,technological equity and access issues to bepronounced and glaringly brought to the surface.It has put thespotlight on the significance and role of educators in society andshifted the entire way we deliver services to those we serve.

Raqueebah describes the process shifting towards digital instruction:For me, the process of shifting to online instruction was similar to flying an aircraft while building it. It was full of twists and turns while accessing, surveying and monitoring what worked best for our students and parents during a crisis and making the proper adjustments. It required my team to embark on a journey of accelerated learning, professional development, self-discovery and advocacy for our learning community. It demanded a focus on social and emotional well-being, preserving community, protecting learning, and promoting connectedness.

In describing the relationship between educational instructors and digital learning tools, Raqueebah says,“I would describe the relationship between educational instructors anddigital learning tools as one of resource and enhancement. The educatoris the facilitator, life blood and energetic force behind theseenhancement tools. Digital learning tools are maximized and becomerelevant because of the intentional planning, alignment, andinstructional delivery of the people who implement them. The digitallearning platform is just that, with a dynamic educator to design anddeliver lessons and feedback.

She describes issues with students’ access to resources in digital learning:Yes, there are issues with access due to the lack of resources inmany communities/households for a myriad of reasons. Students whowere in this position had a delayed transition to the online learningplatform and needed support with gaining access to the tools necessaryto reengage with learning (i.e. Wi-Fi, laptop device, technical support).

Where Raqueebah sees the future of education for middle and high school institutions post-COVID:I see the future of education being forever changed after the effectsof the pandemic. I believe that educators will take advantage of thisopportunity to reshape, recreate and transform our field to experience anew normalcy of technology and access for all. Blended and/or FlexibleLearning may very well become a standard practice and approach toproviding new approaches to instruction.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 14% of children ages 3-18 don't have internet access at home and 9 million students will face barriers turning in assignments online. In addition, the research group also reports that Native Alaskan and Native American youth have the least access to internet, at 36% not having internet, followed by Black youth, at 29% without access, and Hispanic children, at a 26% lack of access rate. Asian and White children are reported to have the highest access, with 12% not having access to internet. How do we remedy this inequity? What of our students who are homeless?

In South Bend, Indiana, school districts are deploying buses to act as Wi-Fi hotspots. In New York, schools are negotiating with the Department of Education, which has provided 231,000 students with iPad, and is paying T-Mobile $10 monthly for unlimited internet access. Education Superhighway, a national organization, is dedicated to providing high speed internet access to students in the country. Contact them hereto see how you can help. It may be helpful to reach out to the Department of Education to request for resources.

Do you know of an organization that is helping to provide internet access for underserved students? Send us an email at[email protected], we would love to help spread the word!

Nana Ama Addo is a writer, multimedia strategist, film director and storytelling artist. She graduated with a BA in Africana Studies from the College of Wooster, and has studied at the University of Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Visit her storytelling brand, and connect with her creative agency on Instagram: @chitheagency.