LAUSD should prioritize resources for students of color

With about $4.8 billion in COVID-19 relief funding already approved for use through the 2023-24 school year to help students in Los Angeles Unified recover from the pandemic, advocates for educational equity want to make sure district officials invest in items and programs that will benefit historically underserved students of color.

Youths who identify as people of color, including those who are Black and Indigenous, were more likely to worry about having their basic needs — such as food, housing and home access to broadband and technology for school — met, more concerned about their mental health and less likely to feel they have an adult on campus they can confide in, according to results from a survey conducted over the summer to assess their needs and level of preparedness for returning to in-person learning this fall.

In total, 769 middle and high school students from more than 100 schools and organizations throughout the county responded to the survey, and feedback was collected through focus groups with more than 50 LAUSD students.

Those findings were published in a report Wednesday, Nov. 10, put forth by Communities for Los Angeles Student Success, which advocates for equity in education, and United Way of Greater Los Angeles, one of the members of the CLASS coalition. Wednesday’s report focused on LA’s “Black, Indigenous, People of Color” communities, or BIPOC for short.

Overall, 39% of surveyed students had to juggle academics with other responsibilities, such as holding down a job or taking care of siblings, parents or other loved ones.

Nearly a quarter were at least a bit worried about having their basic needs met, while BIPOC students expressed a slightly higher level of concern, at 26%. Students who had to take care of siblings or who qualified for free or reduced-price lunches also expressed greater concern about their basic needs being met.

“Additional responsibilities and indicators of poverty,” the report said, “are but a few factors that can significantly influence students’ academic outcomes as they work to balance multiple responsibilities.”

Other survey findings

When asked to rank resources they believe would help support their education, 60% of BIPOC students identified technology as a priority. Rounding out the top 5 priorities were tutoring (49%); mental wellness support, such as having someone to talk to (44%); enrichment courses like art or STEM classes (39%); and extracurricular activities (36%).

BIPOC students said they appreciated having access to digital technology and programs during last year’s distance learning, as they were able to seek help during online office hours with teachers or had more flexibility in when they turned in assignments — especially if they were also juggling work and family obligations. Having assignments posted online allowed them to proceed at their own pace in some instances.

The students surveyed said they would like to see technology use continue in their day-to-day curriculum even as they return to in-person learning.

Latinx students, according to the report, were more worried about their physical health, the physical and mental health of their family members, and their friends’ mental health. (Latinx, which the report uses, is a gender-neutral term that some people prefer over Latino and Latina.) They also expressed greater concern about getting good grades and caring for family members.

Among Black students, 71% identified getting sick at school as a potential stressor in their life, compared to 60% of White students.

And only about 43% of college-bound high school juniors and seniors said they felt adequately prepared for the fall semester after about a year-and-a-half of distance learning for many.

Recommendations for policymakers

The report’s authors recommended that those who set policies and make decisions in the nation’s second-largest school district steer their efforts and resources toward where they’re most needed.

They said LAUSD officials should:

  • Invest equitably into students’ top priorities, which are technology, tutoring services and mental wellness programs, with transparency and accountability about how funds are spent.
  • Allow more opportunities for students to be represented and to take part in decision-making when it comes to LAUSD’s education system.
  • Create policies and practices that support BIPOC students as they transition to college or the workforce.

While students often demonstrate that they can overcome challenges and succeed, their resiliency has been “a byproduct of hardship and inequity rather than … a gift,” the report said.

“It is out of necessity to survive that our students build resilience,” it added. “Our students are resilient because they have to be, not because they want to be, and it’s an injustice that they continue to operate in a system with limited resources and support, thereby forcing them into resilience as a means of survival.”

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