A Virtual New Deal: Put Americans to Work Now by Preparing our Education Infrastructure for the Second Wave of COVID-19
By: Andy Canales
The recent surge in COVID-19 makes it unlikely many kids will be able to return to schools in the Fall, businesses are closing and guardians are continuing to get laid off. I want to get our parents back to work by helping kids succeed during virtual learning. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal pulled us out of the Great Depression through an intense overhaul of American infrastructure. Today, we don’t need physical infrastructure – we need virtual infrastructure for our schools and socio-emotional infrastructure for our students. The New Deal in the time of COVID-19 should focus on investing in the hearts and minds of children.
Every U.S. entity, from individuals to government, corporations, small businesses, and nonprofits, has a role to play. If we plan as a nation and work together, the whole of what we create will be so much greater than the sum of the parts. In an effort to eat the apple one bite at a time, let’s break down how we can do this using the three R’s that made the New Deal famous and lasting.
Relief: We need to help our students by employing their parents and neighbors who have been laid off. There are thousands of unemployed software developers, translators, audiovisual experts, graphic designers, counselors, customer service representatives and more who all have the skills necessary to set up a national virtual educational support infrastructure, helping our students keep up with coursework and prevent the COVID-19 version of the summer slide.
There are more than 13,000 school districts in the United States, but we don’t need each of them to create a small infrastructure plan while also dealing with the problems of today and tomorrow. Instead, we need the federal government. Every one of us should call our federal representatives and ask them to allocate money for a Virtual New Deal in the next relief bill so we can begin creating and staffing this much-needed plan.
Recovery: It will take time to get this Virtual New Deal functioning. While that’s happening on a federal path, we, as individuals, business owners, and community leaders can serve as a virtual volunteer corps in our own communities. Almost every skill or resource we have can help students and families during this pandemic, but here are a few that I think will make a big impact.
Nationally, 35% of fourth-grade public school students are proficient in reading. What if we created a volunteer corps of everyday Americans that could volunteer to read to children virtually every day and engage them in what they are learning?
Small business owners who find themselves with unused tech equipment as a result of teleworking can lend it to local schools, nonprofit organizations, or families to help with education. While small businesses can donate individual items or hours here and there, corporations can do this on a larger scale, providing resources, discounting software, or allowing employees to volunteer as needed during the workday.
Bilingual community members can offer translation services to help ensure all students and guardians have access to identical supports and materials, or they could act as bilingual intermediaries between guardians and the school system. They can also conduct emotional well-being check-ins for households of various backgrounds; those few moments on the phone can help provide peace of mind to students and parents or even uncover issues at home that teachers didn’t know about.
Reform: This is where the two come together – an infrastructure that connects those who have with those who need. A year ago, many of us would not have believed a shutdown of this magnitude could or would happen. Now that we’ve experienced it, we’ve seen what our school systems have done properly with the limited time they had, but we also see what could improve.
As Houston Executive Director at Latinos for Education, I have a front-row seat to the incredible untapped intellectual capital that can help our schools, educators, students and families if we have systems in place to leverage those interested parties. How do we get wireless internet to families that don’t have it; what media partners can we call on to produce educational videos for PBS; what technology companies can help ensure students and families can speak securely with school counselors? What hotlines or online registrations can we put in place so a helper in Nebraska can assist a struggling parent in Texas? The list goes on.
Whether it be the current resurgence of COVID-19 or a natural disaster, there will be another reason for us to strengthen our virtual infrastructure, so we need to be ready.
About Andy Canales
Andy Canales is the Executive Director, Greater Houston at Latinos for Education, a non-profit organization that aims to break down barriers to educational opportunity for the next generation of Latino students.