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Education and community leaders share their thoughts on schooling since COVID-19

Students in 2021 have a completely different learning experience than students years before. Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, all facets of life have changed. From how we attend public events to how we go to work. While every area of life has adapted to the coronavirus, one area that has especially been affected is the education system.


Since schools first shut down in 2020, the way students learn and receive information has completely shifted. Students went from attending in-person lectures to participating in virtual classes from their laptops. Educators went from scribbling instructions on a whiteboard to sharing their screen on Zoom. Despite the fear of the unknown and quick adjustments that were made to classes, school had to go on.


As COVID-19 cases continue to ebb and flow and new Delta variants are on the rise, the discussion continues around how students can receive the best education possible and how the Baton Rouge school system can improve. To continue our #OneRouge (Week 66) virtual discussion about schooling during the COVID-19 era, Walls Project spoke with education leaders and community figures to hear their thoughts on the local school system, how it can change and what needs to happen to make these visions a reality.


Hear what local leaders had to say including Founding Principal of Helix Legal Academy Chastity George, Southern University Assistant Professor of Art John Alleyne, community advocate Gwendolyn Hamilton, and Baton Rouge Alliance for Students CEO Adonica Pelichet Duggan.

 

Chastity George

Founding Principal of Helix Legal Academy


How do you think the local education system has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak began?

COVID-19 put a magnifying glass on what worked well and what didn't in education. What already existed in the school space became easier to name. We know that teachers are able to pivot and do what's best for kids when it matters most. We also know that the education system continues to do a disservice to students who need it to work in their favor more than anyone.


With all of the changes in the education system since COVID-19, what are the areas that need the most improvement in Baton Rouge schools now?

We must put the mental health of our students and teachers at the forefront. Although we know scores and testing is important, we need to allow students and teachers the opportunity to learn authentically in real-world settings. Lastly, we have to embrace the importance of real collaboration. All students in Baton Rouge are our babies, and as a city we should be sharing best practices so that all schools can educate children at high levels.


As a local education leader, how do you plan to initiate or encourage the changes you'd like to see in the Baton Rouge school system?

You will see Helix Legal Academy in the community. We have a completely open door policy to come experience how "We Set the Bar" in and out of the classroom. Our goal is to work with schools all throughout the city, shared events, shared professional development opportunities, networking events, to bridge the gap and unify. I'd love to see us all standing together to do what's best for kids.


How can the community help create change in local education?

The community knows what they need. We have to trust those who live in the different areas of our city to tell us what they need. Oftentimes we want to bombard neighborhoods with research-based practices that we feel will make them be better. They are already great. Nothing is better than talking to parents and families without an agenda, just with the objective to serve. Trust them and see them through a lens of liberation.



 

John Alleyne

Artist & Assistant Professor of Art at Southern University A&M


How do you think the local education system has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak began?

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the local education system has been hit with a catastrophic wave of "uncertainty." We have lost, and continue to lose beloved friends and colleagues due to the virus; some through untimely death, while others opt for retirement in attempts of protecting themselves and their families. Other educators have come to terms with teaching in a hybrid or an online capacity. Despite the continued spread of the Delta variant, most schools will be open for in-person only teaching in the fall. Education should be a right, not a privilege.


With all of the changes in the education system since COVID-19, what are the areas that need the most improvement in Baton Rouge schools now?

We all need transparency right now. Our schools need to be as clear as possible when it comes to planning in this age of uncertainty. Online and hybrid courses still remain in high demand for our students. In my opinion, it would benefit the community at large if we did all we can to protect ourselves and each other from this virus. This includes everything from wearing masks, becoming vaccinated, and ensuring various modes of instruction are available for our students.


As a local education leader, how do you plan to initiate or encourage the changes you'd like to see in the Baton Rouge school system?

By speaking up and showing out. I am currently working with other local Visual Arts programs to determine how we can better develop a community of artists and art students in the age of COVID-19.


How can the community help create change in local education?

I would urge parents to continue to show interest in their children's education. Reach out to your student's professors, those in leadership positions to make your concerns known.

 

Gwendolyn Hamilton

GPH Consulting LLC (Community Advocacy)


How do you think the local education system has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak began?

Since COVID began the consciousness and the vulnerabilities of the system have been exposed. COVID forced us to realize that we were not prepared for disasters like this. And as we switched to technology, there was a stark realization that only those families and children that had access to technology could join in when it was offered. I think it's been positive in that I think it's made us as a community step back and start to address some of those vulnerabilities in education and health in particular.


With all of the changes in the education system since COVID-19, what are the areas that need the most improvement in Baton Rouge schools now?

The most important thing is acknowledging from families and the system that learning loss is real. Children have been out of school, hybrid or otherwise for over a year. There's documented evidence to show that those kids that have been out of school have experienced loss in learning and they now have to catch up. Also, I think that it's really important that as we use this unprecedented amount of federal funds that have come into our community, that we think not short term, but long term in how we sustain ourselves in the event of another catastrophe.


As a local education leader, how do you plan to initiate or encourage the changes you'd like to see in the Baton Rouge school system?

I have been a community advocate for high-quality public education for nearly 50 years. My role will continue to be a voice for the most vulnerable in our community, a voice that helps them understand what choice is, access is and the benefits it has to the children, short and long term.


How can the community help create change in local education?

Local education exists to serve the community, so the community has to be informed in a way that they understand so that they would know how to advocate for high-quality education. There should be concentrated efforts to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to make sure that families at all levels have the right information, the best information so that they can demand quality and accountability.


 

Adonica Pelichet Duggan

CEO Baton Rouge Alliance for Students


How do you think the local education system has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak began?

I think the system has had to be more adaptive and flexible in order to meet the diverse needs of families. I believe families have become more aware of the challenges many schools face and have a new expectation of service.


With all of the changes in the education system since COVID-19, what are the areas that need the most improvement in Baton Rouge schools now?

I believe we need to continue to scale high-quality school offerings and increase equitable access to the most in-demand schools in our city. In addition, we need to allocate additional resources to adequately address the programs and services we want provided at the school building level.


As a local education leader, how do you plan to initiate or encourage the changes you'd like to see in the Baton Rouge school system?

Our team works to help families understand how to navigate the complex systems, advocates for policies that support the growth of quality schools, and ensures families are represented in the conversation. We must center the interests of students in shaping policy decisions.


How can the community help create change in local education?

The community must unite around a shared vision of what successful educational outcomes for our students look like and hold policymakers accountable for results. It takes the support of the entire community to achieve an excellent education for every child.


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