COVID has changed how young people have had to learn and care for themselves over this past year and a half. They’ve been away from friends and family, impacted by financial hardship, illness or loss of loved ones due to COVID. Going to school has meant logging on to Zoom, trying to focus on class in a noisy home with other siblings and working parents during the most critical developmental times of their lives. COVID has all taken its toll on all of us, but especially our young people, many who began (or graduated from) their school career virtually.
COVID has made school attendance difficult for many different reasons. Financial hardship has driven some school age young people to work to support their families. Schools have always struggled to be responsive to Black, Brown, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) students, and absenteeism is not the student’s failure, but the system’s failure. This spring, our Patient Navigation team at Seattle World School noticed many Spanish and Maya K’iche speaking students absent and then dis-enrolled with minimal or no language appropriate contact from the school. Disenrollment from school makes students ineligible for SNAP (food) benefits, and increases barriers for their return. As a result of our advocacy and in coalition with Southeast Education Coalition (SESEC) and the Office of Education Ombudsman (OEO), Mercedes Delgado, Neighborhood House Patient Navigation Supervisor, met with Seattle Schools leadership to raise these issues. Thanks to OEO, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) changed their policy and will now require all districts to have an outreach and reengagement process for students who have been withdrawn due to non-attendance, when there is no evidence that the student is enrolled elsewhere. Schools must now communicate in a language the parent understands and the good news is that it DOES NOT include referring the student to juvenile court or child welfare.
This summer, Neighborhood House endorsed the $900 million, 6-year continuation and expansion of Best Starts for Kids (BSK), which King County voters overwhelmingly passed. BSK funds some of our important work like Parent Child+ and Project SCOPE. Hector Garcia, a client in Project SCOPE describes how Neighborhood House helped him navigate COVID in this letter to the editor published in the July 30th edition of the Seattle Times.
Project SCOPE, a youth advocacy program at Neighborhood House funded by Best Starts for Kids, has helped me through these years. One of the most valuable things to me has been the support from my case managers. The weekly calls really motivated me and helped me be accountable in my personal and work life. They made me feel encouraged and motivated.
During difficult times that I went through in my life, for example during COVID-19, I was helped with resources for my family and myself such as finding rental assistance, food and emotional support. I never felt left alone and never doubted that they would help me find a way. I am forever grateful and I know for a fact that they have supported many people like myself. It is a blessing to have this program and the opportunity to be in it. Because of the continued support and encouragement I know I will reach higher places in life.
COVID has made it all too clear that our current systems aren’t working for BlPOC children. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, the pandemic has set back learning for all students, but especially for students of color.
Investments like Best Starts for Kids aim to reverse the generational harm of racism by investing in BIPOC children’s school readiness and providing support and encouragement to young people like Hector. Neighborhood House’s advocacy to change systems at Seattle World School and with OSPI to be more responsive to immigrants and refugees are important steps in creating equity. These are just two examples of how Neighborhood House is working to dismantle racist systems while helping children and youth navigate those systems with support and encouragement so they realize their dreams and “never feel left alone.”