For the past few months, the Stand For Schools team has had the great privilege of working with Vanessa Chavez Jurado, a student at the University of Nebraska - Omaha, an aspiring educator, and our fall intern. Before she leaves us to begin her next semester, we asked Vanessa to share some of her thoughts on the challenges and opportunities facing the next generation of teachers and education leaders. Here's what she wanted to say:
I am a current BIPOC teacher candidate who grew up in a wealthier area of Omaha, and who throughout practicums has noticed the inequities in education present across my city. After almost two years of unknowns, seemingly never-ending surprises and challenges in schools caused by the pandemic, it is reasonable to want to return to familiar ways of operating in public education.
However, when we think about what was and wasn’t working in our schools prior to the pandemic, and we consider where we are today in our ability to address students' needs, we must realize we cannot afford to go back to “normal”, because normal wasn’t always working.
In the words of Gloria Ladson-Billings, we must look at a “hard re-set” in the wake of the global pandemic. Her article describes the disproportionate impacts on students of color of the education system that we would go back to if we rush to “get back to normal”. Recognizing this as our reality makes it clear that culturally relevant pedagogy is crucial in our schools – something that is too often absent in our previous normal or is thought of as “nice to have” rather than essential. One way in which we must consider a hard re-set in our schools is in the context of who has access to resources, when, and for how long. For example, child nutrition program waivers made free school meals accessible at the beginning of the pandemic. Children cannot learn when they are hungry. If it took a life-altering pandemic to create these changes where students can rely on daily meals, why must that end, and why can’t such resources be fostered in a “new normal”? Greater access to resources also includes equitable access to technology and internet–another widespread, ongoing inequity whose impact has only grown since the pandemic began. During my second practicum, I was called to help in a classroom where one teacher was leading two classes because there was no substitute teacher available. I have seen students ask for a second breakfast because they were still hungry from not having had food the day before. This should make us question when we normalized child hunger and why this is a normal we would want to return to. The search for a new normal also demands we face the inequities in school discipline. For instance, while this past school year saw fewer calls for service and referrals for school resources officers in Lincoln Public Schools, African American and Native American students were still overrepresented. From the perspective of a teacher candidate, this is also a call for improving support for current and aspiring educators. This includes decreasing barriers to the teaching profession, intentionally supporting the development of cultural competency in educators, valuing and supporting the work educators do, and including them in the decision making process. The pandemic has been extraordinarily difficult, but it also presents us with opportunities to correct long-standing inequities in our schools and our society.
We can either go backwards or choose a new path with intention.
Vanessa Chavez Jurado Elementary Education | University of Nebraska at Omaha Scholar | Goodrich Scholarship Program Co-Founder | First Forward President | Teacher Education Diversity Organization 2021-2022 Newman Civic Fellow
Stand For Schools advocates for all teachers and students in Nebraska's public school system. We're proud to stand alongside Vanessa and all those working to better our public education system now and in the years to come.