The Digital Divide: Researching the Challenges of Online Learning for Many Students

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The Digital Divide: Researching the Challenges of Online Learning for Many Students

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Featured Article: “She’s 10, Homeless and Eager to Learn. But She Has No Internet.” by Nikita Stewart

In recent weeks, many schools have turned to online learning in an attempt to stop the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. On March 23, the New York City public school system moved its 1,800 schools online. However, the city has an estimated 114,000 children who live in shelters and unstable housing, which makes offering accessible online education a challenge.

In this lesson you will read about several New York City kids who are navigating online education while living in homeless shelters or homes without internet access. Then, you will create a “one-pager” response to the article, or research your region’s plan for providing online education for students who are homeless.

The featured article profiles six children and teenagers in New York City, beginning with this three-minute video focusing on one child: Allia Phillips. As you watch the video, write down your responses:

  • One quote from the video that you found moving or insightful.

  • Two questions or ideas that you have after watching the video.

  • Three images or stills that you found interesting or meaningful.

Now, read the featured article in its entirety to learn more about Allia and other young people in New York City who are also navigating online education without having permanent housing.

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. In your own words, summarize the different struggles that students, parents and school administrators have faced during New York City’s move to online education. Then, summarize some of the attempted solutions and their effectiveness.

2. Richard Carranza, the schools chancellor, and Christine Quinn, executive director of the nonprofit Win, expressed two very different outlooks on the remote-learning situation in New York City. How would you characterize their perspectives? Why do you think they see things so differently?

3. What did Estrella Montanez, the director of the Nelson Avenue Family Residence in the Bronx, notice when she and her staff went door-to-door in the shelter where they work? What different solutions has she been exploring?

4. What are some of the questions and concerns that Jennifer March, executive director of the Citizens’ Committee for Children, has raised? What do you think of her solutions? Do you have other ideas of what could be done?

5. The article profiles six New York City kids: Allia Phillips; the sisters Kamiyah Williams and Chastity Battle; the brothers Khalil and Tahir; and J’Marion Brown. Choose one young person to focus on and answer:

  • How has their living situation affected their online education experience?

  • What solutions have they and their families explored and implemented?

  • What more do you think could be done to offer support? Who do you think is responsible for providing additional support or services?

Option I: One-Pager

What is your emotional reaction to reading the article? Are you able to empathize — “sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling” — with any of the young people featured in the article? Does the article make you think of anything you have ever gone through, or of anything someone you care about has gone through? Or, do the stories feel very different from anything you’ve experienced? If the latter, are you able to imagine what the children and teenagers in the article might feel?

Now, create an emotional and visual response to the article by designing a One-Pager. Look back through the article and choose:

You can organize your selections on this One-Pager worksheet. If you have more time, design a visually compelling one-pager and explain the importance of the article. If you choose this option, you can add:

  • An additional quote and image.

  • A phrase from the article that can serve as the border of your one-pager.

  • The theme of the article, in your own words, along with problems and solutions.

  • A feeling that you are left with after reading the article.

Option II: Take Action

If public schools in your area are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, do you know how students without housing or stable living situations are being supported in online learning? If schools in your area have not yet closed, do you know anything about your district’s plan to support those students in the event schools close?

To answer these questions, conduct some research by looking on your school district’s website and in local newspapers. Once you have an understanding of the services that are, or will be, offered to students without stable housing, answer the following questions:

Summarize your district’s plan for providing educational services to students without housing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Evaluate the plan based on what you learned about the struggles in New York City:

  • Is there a plan in place for distributing devices such as laptops or iPads?

  • Is there a way to ensure that all students will have reliable access to the internet?

  • Has any work been done to ensure that students can have a quiet and safe place to work during the day?

  • What is being offered for children who struggle in school or need more support in certain subjects, like J’Marion Brown discussed in the article?

Based on your evaluation, write a letter to your district’s superintendent offering suggestions on how he or she can best accommodate the learning needs of students without housing during the pandemic.