Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the reality of virtual learning, we have initiated an important innovation to address the issue of educational insecurity. Educational inequities have been exposed by the move to virtual education. Montgomery County, MD has 166,000 students enrolled in the public school system (MCPS). All are learning online, at-home this semester and likely for the remainder of the school year. While this is a serious challenge for every teacher and household, it raises unique educational insecurity challenges for the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities. The student disengagement rate has increased from 3-5 percent a day to 20-30 percent with virtual learning in Title I schools. And similar to food insecurity, the impact upon Black and Brown students is particularly harsh. In a 2019 Maryland Department of Health survey, the racial disparity in food insecurity for middle school Black and White students was 461% and between Hispanic and White high school students it was 301%. This racial disparity is significantly higher in Montgomery County than any other county in Maryland.
These households do not have the ability to afford the various options that are available to those who have means, whether private tutors, child-care, or learning pods. Many do not have adequate access to the Internet and cannot even connect to the virtual sessions. And for those who have strong internet connection, many must continue to go to their service-industry essential jobs in order to provide for their families, and have no choice but to leave their young children at home without adult supervision for their young children to benefit from virtual learning.
In response, we have initiated a project that combines the effort to meet food insecurity needs while also meeting education insecurity needs. This effort is the first of its kind in Montgomery County and as far as we are aware, unique throughout the country. In partnership with the Black and Brown Coalition for Educational Equity, we launched the pilot Educational Equity and Enrichment hub at Stedwick Elementary School in Montgomery Village on Sept. 14. We named these “Equity and Enrichment” hubs as it 1) helps to meet the needs of those who have been shut out of other initiatives that simply were financially and practically impossible, and 2) gives the opportunity to offer food, education, and health services to a traditionally
underserved and overlooked community. This program provides licensed day-time educational support Mondays through Fridays, from 8:30AM to 5:30PM, for students in K-6th grade, so that caregivers/parents are able continue their employment and provide for their households.
These initial hubs are the first of their kind and offer unique and extraordinary opportunity to help a traditionally underserved community. We are able to conveniently and effectively meet food needs through the hubs, alleviating the need for additional trips to get food. We are taking the undesired circumstances of a pandemic and virtual learning to give high impact and need households access to services and support that would have been unavailable in normal, non-pandemic circumstances.