Disproportionately hit by COVID-19, Native families unenroll from RCAS to homeschool or learn in other districts

As more than 650 parents in the district responded to a survey that they don’t want their kids in school buildings this fall during the COVID-19 pandemic, many Native American families in the Rapid City Area Schools system are considering homeschooling pods or partnerships with different districts as alternatives for their kids’ education.

Native families are weighing their options before a district-wide Monday enrollment deadline. Arguments to keep kids at home include health concerns, like the fact that Native people are overrepresented in Pennington County’s COVID-19 cases.

On the other hand, some families say they’re concerned that keeping their kids at home this fall won’t improve the district’s statistic that 30-40% of students didn’t engage in remote learning this spring.

Amy Sazue, advancement coordinator at NDN Collective who recently ran for the Area 4 school board seat, said the RCAS district has not taken enough perspective from Native families into the back-to-school plan.

“Advocating on behalf of our families and children is different in Rapid City Area Schools,” Sazue, who is president of the parent advisory committee for the Indian Education Program, said. “I’ve reached out numerous times during the planning of the Together Again plan and voiced my concerns for the lack of outreach.”

Sazue created her own survey and distributed it among Native families, separate from the district’s handful of surveys to families. With 160 responses, Sazue’s survey showed 57% of Native parents polled were considering learning remotely. Another 42% of parents said they’re considering unenrolling their kids from RCAS.

“I know four people personally who are just taking (their kids) out of (RCAS) because they felt like this wasn’t an equitable process. We were shocked” at the survey results, she said. “There was no needs analysis or study done in the district to figure out what the gaps were.”

A new homeschooling group, Lakota Oyate Homeschool Co-op, already has 60 parent members ready for the fall. Heather Thompson, an organizer of the group, said the group will be led by parents who are volunteering their expertise on certain subjects to teach a variety of classes to homeschool students.

Students can take Lakota-specific classes on culture, language, songs, geology, history, tribal law, traditional arts and beadwork, wildlife, science, water, ethnobotany, math and more from the volunteers.

“As parents, we were extremely frustrated not only on this online option but the fact that we’ve been asking the school district for generations for this curriculum to be integrated so that our students will feel more included and more engaged, and frankly perform better,” Thompson said.

Thompson estimated that Native students in the district are performing worse than their peers during the pandemic and over time, which she said is a “crisis.”

“If it was a different demographic, the board and the rest of the district would be up in arms,” she said.

Some of the families in the Co-op may still enroll with RCAS, and the co-op classes would augment the online classes they take with RCAS or other districts, Thompson said.

Jean Roach, 60, is an artist who helps take care of her grandchildren. Roach said she’s concerned with how pandemics have affected the Native community in the past and doesn’t think COVID-19 will be any different.

“Our children are sacred,” Roach said. “Why would we want to put our children into a situation where they could possibly be sick?”

JoLynn Little Wounded, 52, has three grandkids at North Middle School and said she’s happy there’s a safer option for her family than going to school in-person.

Lorraine Nez said she’s glad her third grader will be able to learn about Native history in the homeschooling group.

“With the whole online at-home thing, I’m a single parent and I know I’m going to have to make some changes,” Nez said. “I’m pretty excited to go forward” with the homeschooling group.

A group homeschool option will allow students to work together at home with a mentor overseeing them during the day to complete the online portions of their work, Thompson said, noting the parents could oversee the cleanliness and CDC guidelines of their homes better than they could within the school setting.

“This is what the Native community does best,” Thompson said. “We use our creativity and our culture to help each other and we find ways to pool our resources together.”

A group of parents struck a deal this week with the Oglala Lakota County school district to offer classes to Rapid City families based on Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and Lakota language online.

Sarah Pierce, director of education equity for NDN Collective and lead facilitator of the South Dakota Education Equity Coalition, first reached out to the district for the partnership, which she said is important for “school choice.”

“For once in a long time, parents in Rapid City have an opportunity to choose a virtual option that fits our needs both culturally and linguistically,” Pierce said, noting she would promote other community members to do the same. “We’re all entitled to a choice, especially when it comes to serving the best interests of our students and our children.”

Pierce has four kids in the RCAS district who she will withdraw from their schools and transfer to the OLC district to learn from home this fall.

Although the district is nearly 90 miles from Rapid City, parents said their students will still feel more connected to the courses because they’re Lakota-specific, which may help engage the students more personally even while they take the classes online.

Tamera Miyasato, whose son is in fourth grade, said she and her other family members are certain they’ll enroll their kids with the OLC school district to learn online this fall.

“Culture and language are not only important for our learners in the Rapid City community, especially indigenous learners, but it’s critical,” she said. “Having access to Indigenous educators is one step that pushes them a little bit more towards trust.”

Nancy Bowman, who has been an educator for 16 years and has grandchildren and many Indigenous relatives in the district, said she’s glad to have that “school choice.”

“The more options you have, the better because not every learner learns the same way,” Bowman said.

A group of Rapid City Native parents will host a virtual learning enrollment fair on Wednesday for families interested in enrolling through the Oglala Lakota County public school district.

Mexico, US extend partial border closure until Sept. 21 due to COVID-19

Restrictions on non-essential land traffic along the border between Mexico and the United States will be extended until Sept. 21 due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Mexican Foreign Ministry announced on August 14.

According to the ministry, Mexico proposed the extension of the partial closure of the border for another month after reviewing the development of the pandemic in both countries.

The measure, implemented on March 21 along the common border, restricts travel for tourism or recreational purposes but permits commercial, medical, and essential work-related travel.

“Both countries will try to coordinate health measures in the border region that will be in effect until 11:59 p.m. local time on September 21, 2020,” the Mexican Foreign Ministry said via Twitter.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard announced on August 13 that Mexico had asked the United States to extend the measure as the pandemic was re-emerging in US states bordering Mexico.

“Right now, they have a resurgence (of the disease) in the south, so the border cannot be opened right now, and in some (Mexican) states, we are more or less going down,” Ebrard explained.

Under normal circumstances, thousands of people cross the common border every day for work, school, and tourism purposes. By Sept. 21, the border will have been partially closed for six months.

The United States is the country that has been the most heavily affected by the pandemic, with over 5 million cases and over 160,000 deaths, while Mexico has registered more than 500,000 cases and over 55,000 deaths.

Parents Agree: Let’s Get Our Kids Back To School

Over the last few weeks, I had several opportunities to meet with parents across our beautiful state to discuss getting our kids back into school buildings this fall. My team and I met parents in Sioux Falls, Spearfish, and Huron. All but one parent agreed that we need to get our students back in the classroom.

The importance of in-classroom learning has been well-documented. Teachers and parents went above and beyond when our schools closed this past March, but their tremendous efforts could not overcome the inherent challenges of distance learning. Unfortunately, students only acquired about 70% of the learning gains in reading that they would have had they been in the classroom, and that number is only 50% for math. This cannot continue.

Learning in classrooms allows our students to retain more knowledge, continue to develop social skills, and, in some cases, improve their nutrition. As the CDC tells us, “Social interaction at school among children in grades PK-12 is particularly important for the development of language, communication, social, emotional, and interpersonal skills.” All of these areas are vital for our children and keeping kids out of classrooms could have severe negative impacts on their long-term health.

Parents understand these challenges, and they also understand that children are less likely to contract or spread COVID-19. Data from other countries where schools have already reopened indicates that our kids are at low risk compared to adults, and a JAMA Pediatrics report tells us that “children are at far greater risk of critical illness from influenza than from COVID-19.” Given these promising facts, we can rest easy knowing that our kids are safely learning in the best environment possible.

Obviously, a school can’t operate without teachers and other staff. These hard-working individuals are unlikely to catch the virus from a student. However, if they have concerns, they can practice good hygiene and social distancing. They can also wear masks if they so choose. Some teachers are in the vulnerable population, and there may be opportunities for distance teaching to students who are distance learning.

Masks are a big part of the discussion on back-to-school. Most parents that we met with agreed that it is impractical for students to properly wear a mask for the entire school day. Kids will play with their mask, touch their face, or get them dirty, all of which can actually increase the spread of the virus. During a recent press conference, I gently teased a reporter that he’d touched his mask about a half-dozen times – and he was an adult! Certainly, our children are more prone to such behavior.

Other parents are making the decision that their kids will wear masks to school, and that choice is well within their purview to make. I’d encourage parents on both sides of this discussion to recognize that their peers may have reason to make a different choice, and that we shouldn’t shame those who choose differently. We don’t always know the reason behind the choices that someone else makes, so let’s be compassionate and understanding towards each other.

Getting our kids back in the classroom may pose some challenges, but such challenges are an opportunity to adapt and improve the way we do things. Let’s embrace these challenges and do everything we can to ensure that kids across our state get back in the classroom so they can get the best education possible.

Uganda looks online for answers to COVID economic crisis

From banking, to food delivery, and taxi bookings, Uganda is rapidly becoming accustomed to many of the online tools that are commonplace in developed economies, and which don’t rely on face-to-face interactions. The UN is supporting this shift, as a way to help developing economies recover from the global economic crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ruth Tindyebwa, a market vendor in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, was badly affected by the government’s lockdown measures, imposed on March 22. Much of her custom came from people walking past her stall on the way to work. After the restrictions were put into place, this source of income dried up. Things have now turned around, however, thanks to a project set up by the UN, in collaboration with a local company called Safeboda.

Safeboda promises users a safer option than the usual “bodabodas”, the motorcycle taxis, often unlicensed, that weave their way through the streets of Uganda and other east African countries.

The company operates in a way that is familiar to users of well-known taxi-hailing platforms, such as Uber or Lyft: users download an app, enter their destination, and see the estimated cost of their ride. The company offers assurances that the drivers will be safe, well-trained, and professional.

After the Ugandan government enacted its lockdown measures, the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), responded by launching its partnership with Safeboda, creating a new e-commerce platform that connects market vendors to customers.

Orders for produce are placed via the Safeboda app, and paid for, using its mobile wallet feature. The company’s accredited riders then deliver the produce.

The result has been a boost in trade for hundreds of market vendors, regular income for the bodaboda drivers, and a safe way for customers to receive the goods.

Ms. Tindyebwa was one of the first market vendors to sign up to the project: her daily sales are now even higher than they were before lockdown. “The most amazing part is that I can save for my children’s school fees on my e-wallet as I wait for the schools to reopen after this lockdown,” she says.

The Safeboda scheme is not the only partnership launched by the UN in Uganda. In May, the UN Development Program, UNDP, joined forces with Jumia Foods, the country’s largest e-commerce company, to create an online platform specifically designed to connect some of the most vulnerable members of the workforce with potential customers.

The initiative is designed to empower those hit hardest in the informal trade sector, and more than 60 per cent of those who have signed up for it are women, young people, and persons with disabilities.

It also helps to connect farmers, keeping alive the flow of products from rural areas to urban markets. As part of the support, UNDP is providing sellers more than 3,000 vendors in five Kampala markets, with smartphones, airtime, and data packages.

At the launch of the partnership in May, Amelia Kyambadde, Uganda’s Minister of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, declared that she expects it to promote the growth of online commerce. “One of the lessons we have learnt is that e-commerce has come, and it will never go away”, she said.

Elsie Attafuah, the UNDP Resident Representative in Uganda, was equally upbeat, describing the partnership with Jumia as a “safe, convenient and fast service to the citizens of Uganda”, which will boost trade.

“COVID-19 presents not only a health but also a humanitarian and development crisis that is threatening to leave deep social, economic and political scars for years. It is, therefore, important to expand e-commerce to enable business continuity, support livelihoods and enable early recovery from the pandemic”, she added.

One of the aims of such partnerships, is to demonstrate the many benefits of digital services to small businesses and consumers, and encourage further digital innovation, leading to sustainable growth in the Ugandan economy.

In many other ways, the UN is working closely with Ugandan government to turn things around, by using digital tools.

The UN Safeboda and Jumia schemes are just two examples of the ways in which online commerce can help to kickstart, in a sustainable way that benefits all, the Ugandan economy. Like so many other countries around the world, Uganda is struggling to cope with the devastating effects of the economic crisis brought about by COVID-19.

The World Bank estimates that real GDP growth this year will be less than 2 per cent, compared with almost 5.6 per cent in 2019.

The UN agency for trade, UNCTAD, has made several recommendations, on how to improve the supply of digital services in Uganda, and UNDP is supporting the government in its development of an e-commerce strategy, which has seen new laws have been passed, aimed at improving people’s trust in online transactions.

E-commerce has been identified by the UN as a powerful way to drive growth, boost trade and create jobs, but many developing countries are still lagging behind in this area.

Through initiatives such as UNCTAD’s e-trade for all platform, which aims to coordinate the efforts of NGOs, foundations, and others, to harness the potential of the internet for economic development, it is hoped that the progress seen in Uganda can be replicated elsewhere, as governments attempt to navigate their way out of this unprecedented global crisis.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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