Give Us Statehood Now!: The Old Man of Anacostia

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June 24 is the last day of the DC public school year and it cannot come soon enough for many students, parents, guardians and educators. Remote education during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a disaster for many students east of the river, and the learning loss will be felt in our community for years to come.

The pandemic placed parents and students into an unexpected hybrid of virtual learning and home schooling. Most east-of-the-river residents live in apartments, and many students were not in environments conducive for learning. They had nowhere to put their laptops so that their virtual classes would be free of interruptions by siblings. For some students, schools are a refuge from dysfunctional households. COVID-19 shut the doors on that.

Truancy has been a problem for years, and the pandemic moved that problem into a virtual atmosphere. Some students simply did not sign on for their virtual classes or turned off the microphones and videos.

Parents found themselves thrust into the role of home-school instructors. Far too many young parents are victims of miseducation and are unequipped to help their children with school work. A parent with reading problems cannot effectively help a child to read. It is heartbreaking to say, but the learning loss will probably show up in the reading scores next year.

Because of this learning loss, one would expect an outcry and a call to expand the school day, week and year. Unfortunately, that is not in the cards. So, as students approach their summer vacations, what can we do to minimize the continuing learning loss during July and August?

Volunteers with the Anacostia Coordinating Council pose for a photo before they begin canvassing the neighborhood with information about the vaccine. Pannell is in the back, second from R. Photo: CCN/E.O’Gorek

I propose that all summer jobs for youth have an educational component. The city is opening up, and all students should be required to go to the library and choose at least one book to read during the summer and write a report on it. During the summer, students should not be in a situation where their only reading materials are the text messages on their cellphones. Students should not have the clock run out on their educational advancement as they spend the summer watching TikTok videos.

If it takes a village to raise a child, the adult villagers need to emphasize and promote educational experiences for our youth this summer. Our nonprofits, houses of worship, community organizations, activists and leaders should all be on board with educationally uplifting our children. The Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC) is sponsoring a written and spoken-word competition to involve Ward 8 high school students in the movement to achieve DC statehood. Ward 7 schools are not included because ACC does not have the funding to expand the competition. Are there Ward 7 villagers willing to come forth to be involved in the effort to end our status as second-class citizens? Martin Luther King Jr. involved school children in marches and demonstrations. DC statehood is a civil rights issue. Let us involve our young people.

Long-time Ward 8 community activist Philip Pannell can be contacted at philippannell@comcast.net.