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What's the Plus?

Our Elected Officials Should Support Education Stimulus Package

By Kisaundra Harris

In the last few months, my students and their families did their best to function in a world that had been overtaken by a pandemic; by May, they could no longer pretend like everything was really OK. Sabrina, struggling to properly manage her own mental health, asked for help. Fearful her father may lose his job, Jackie needed someone to talk to. Jose sent an email apologizing for missing learning; his father had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and he was supporting his family working 40-plus hours a week at a local grocery store.

As a teacher, I am on the front line with these students. When they are in need, I am the first person they reach out to. I and other educators like me are at the epicenter of taking care of multiple needs of our students and families and we deserve to have our classrooms and our teaching craft protected.

Teachers are highly trained practitioners who wear many hats. In Sabrina’s case, I knew I could offer encouraging words but that she also needed the assistance of someone who specialized in student mental health. Within an hour, I found a counselor Sabrina could speak with who was able to offer her the help and services she needed. The ability to ask for help from other professionals in order to help a student should not be a luxury dependent on proper funding; it should be a requirement.

As the end of the school year drew near, some of my students were behind in my class and many of their other classes as well. With years of training on how and when to differentiate for a student’s academic needs under my belt, I had a ready solution: I communicated with each one to ask what would help them be successful in my class. One student wanted a little more time to show mastery while another asked if I could alleviate an assignment so he could focus his energy on one learning task. However, my biggest teacher wins came from those students who asked to show me their learning in a non-traditional way. For example, one student created a digital art print comparing COVID-19 to a wolf in sheep’s clothing along with a scientific explanation that left me amazed. Most importantly, I was there for my students to guide their learning.

This month, the U.S. Senate is expected to start to consider a second stimulus package to support school systems during the major economic downturn that has accompanied this pandemic. Experts anticipate that state budget shortfalls will result in hundreds of billions of dollars of cuts to education unless Congress passes a substantial stimulus package. That is why I am calling on my U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz to support a stimulus package that provides funds to ensure that we have the resources to avoid teacher layoffs and continue to support the students and families who need us now more than ever.

When I left my classroom on March 13th, I had an ominous feeling that I would not return. Spring break this year was full of concern about my students and their mental health as well as brainstorming ideas on how to make an abrupt pivot to virtual learning. As my peers and I sent what seemed like hundreds of texts over a one-week period, the common theme was, “How do we make this work for our students?” But teachers are adaptable, so that is exactly what we did: We shifted from conventional instruction to that of an online platform. We spent time modifying lessons so they could be completed online or even on paper if no access to technology was available. We found new ways to make sure our students felt connected to their classmates and to us. As we look ahead to the challenging times that await us in the fall, never has there been a more pressing need to support teachers in a traditional and virtual classroom. Teachers have shown real leadership during the pandemic to ensure our students are safe and successful. I call on our senators to do the same and support the stimulus package.

Kisaundra Harris teaches 11th and 12th grade anatomy and physiology at Tascosa High School in Amarillo, Texas. She is a Teach Plus Texas Policy Fellowship alumna.

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