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ISU Teacher Educator Sees Room For Equity On Long Road Back From Coronavirus

Mother and daughter walk
Charles Rex Arbogast
Erica Harris, right, and her daughter Jordan, wear their protective masks as they walk back home after getting a lunch and homework from the child’s school earlier this month on Chicago’s south side.";s:

An Illinois State University education professor says the coronavirus has magnified the existing inequities in schools that should have been addressed years ago.

Yet Shamaine Bazemore-Bertrand, an assistant professor in the College of Education, said she is optimistic about the opening for change created by the coronavirus.

Shamaine Bazemore-Bertrand
Shamaine Bazemore-Bertrand is an assistant professor in the College of Education at ISU.

“Now is the time we can think about things like equity and social justice, and make sure we’re meeting the needs of our most vulnerable populations,” she said. “We’re seeing the digital divide. We’re seeing job loss. We’re seeing racial disparities. Now we can begin, as educators, to think about, what can we do differently to make sure our students are going to be successful?”

Bazemore-Bertrand, who has two school-age children herself, said teachers will have to give a lot of grace to students when schools reopen (presumably) in the fall.

“That may mean we have to put the instruction on the backburner to take care of the social-emotional needs of our students,” she said.

Those who might have the hardest time readjusting are African American students who’ve been touched personally by COVID-19. The coronavirus has hit black Americans disproportionately hard. In McLean County, 1 in 3 confirmed COVID-19 parents is black—about four times the share of black people in the general population.

“That’s a form of trauma. So how do we now begin to instruct students when they’re experiencing death all around them, or experiencing people being hospitalized all around them?” Bazemore-Bertrand said. “When I think about the inequities that exist, I’m really thinking about, are we taking into consideration how these students are being impacted by COVID-19? And then how is that tailoring our teaching, so that they get the information, but they also get the mental health taken care of that they need?”

Bazemore-Bertrand knows the empathy required firsthand. She's had many heart-to-hearts with her students—mostly juniors in ISU’s teacher training program—as their learning shifted online, and she adjusted her coursework to fit where they were at. She’s also facilitated Twitter chats to tap into how they’re feeling.

“The students are anxious right now. They don’t know if they’re going to be back on campus in the fall. And that’s something we’re all waiting to hear,” she said.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.