Love your neighbor… and your neighbor’s children.
“There should be no other limit to exercising kindness to my neighbor than the end of my resources.” -John Calvin
A huge swath of Orange Mound is currently sorting out the tensions of virtual school with laptops, Internet connectivity and child care, all while breadwinning. Small businesses in Orange Mound are sorting through the CARES Act (Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) in order to squeeze a breath of hope from the fumes of the current economic recession. Moms need to work to keep up. Students need to sharpen technical skills to keep up. Businesses need to stay open.
In Tennessee, typically more than half of the funding for schools comes from local property taxes. Poorer communities, therefore, generally have insufficient resources to fully serve their higher need populations. This contributes to a high percentage of students from these neighborhoods being unable to read or do math on grade level, which then reinforces poverty in that neighborhood and all the challenges that come with it. Since the poverty rate for African Americans is more than three times that of Whites, the system of school funding disproportionately traps communities of color. Now, the latest COVID casualty is in-person schooling. This Fall all Shelby County Schools’ students will be attending virtually.
Understanding the unique environment we are facing, this approach to formal education of our children is no less troubling to me. Recently I talked with several high school girls from our neighborhood in Orange Mound and found them unenthusiastic about virtual school and lacking in the preparation to excel in this model. They were already confused, as was I, anticipating how so many with differing learning skills could be subjected to a one-dimensional instruction technique. Meanwhile, our single moms, who work for our little tea company, have limited computer skills needed to support their children’s learning. And if teachers are not already challenged enough, they now have to manage the technology and find ways to inspire learning through a flat screen. I see a lapse that is going to be more than incidental and has the potential to be tragic for kids who are already behind.
This current conundrum is a call for us to open pathways for connection between the “haves” and the “scrappy.” Since “Southern Hospitality” is long-accepted currency for our city, I want to challenge us to mask-up and start loving our neighbors by serving their children. There are YMCA’s, Community Centers, and church basements with tables, WIFI, and bathrooms where those who want to help can assist the children who are vulnerable and under-exposed to the rigors of virtual learning. Wide desk-spacing in the basements of the 40 churches just in the Orange Mound neighborhood could provide a setting for engagement as well as an imperative need for educational-lift and stimulation.
A group of you can partner with a church in your neighborhood to identify safe spaces for children to be tutored while their parents are at work. Lunches or snacks might be available through SCS, which already has them budgeted for 2020. Several non-profits have helped distribute them the last 6 months since schools shuttered in March.
You can keep the children of a teacher who is juggling her own children at home while trying to motivate students online.
You can assist SCS parents you know with your own simple computer instruction and expertise as they monitor and mentor their children who have homework assignments after classroom exposure on the internet.
You can support with time, treasure, and talent the local nonprofits that are in the service of families in need.
Please take note 100,000 Shelby County students are home this year and many are unsupervised. And 6000 teachers are separated from their classrooms. Schools are vacant and playgrounds are growing grass. I believe most of us are equipped with all that is necessary: time, mercy and compassion. If you can’t help 10 or more children, try starting with one.