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By Candice Richardson, The Seattle Medium
It’s a rainy Friday fall morning and T’wina Nobles, President and CEO of the Tacoma Urban League, and her nine-year old son make their way to their respective corners of the living room – he at a kids’ table set up as his workspace for school, she on her couch where she’s prepping for an all-day virtual board retreat.
Nobles, a candidate for State Senate, who also serves on the board of the University Place School District, takes stock in the relatively quiet morning as her 16 year old son and 14 year old daughter are finishing up assignments in other rooms in the house.
Having worked from home since the Shelter in Place orders began in March, Nobles says the biggest issue in getting her children ready for the school year was, unsurprisingly, technical. Her children had a hard time accessing their online classes and felt a little overwhelmed because it would sometimes take 12 minutes to get into a class period.
“The first day of school I called Comcast to change our internet plan,” says Nobles. “I had already been thinking about that, because running a nonprofit from home, and, you know, multiple family members accessing the internet and folks doing that across the region, it felt like there was a strain on our broadband.”
Over in Renton, City Councilmember Ed Prince, who also serves as a board member for Sound Transit and is the Director of the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs, moonlights as low-key tech support for his first grade daughter while working from home.
While connectivity wasn’t an issue for Prince, who also has a son in the fifth grade, getting his first grader used to Zoom had its challenges.
“My daughter practically every day has a tech issue,” Prince said. “My son, after the first week [of school], is pretty self-sufficient…my daughter either accidentally knocks herself off the Zoom call or can’t get into something in the Google Classroom or something goes wrong.”
“And I have to I try to make sure that I am available to assist her, which is hard because I can’t plan all my meetings around her in-class instruction time,” he added.
Prince, who has the unique perspective of being a policymaker with school-age kids, says that although he has had time to prepare for the upcoming school year, the new schedule is still very challenging.
“I think what makes families work is that, you know, everyone’s in the same house. And then everyone goes their separate ways for a portion of the day, and then everyone comes back together,” stated Prince. “And then I especially think about parents who are essential employees and aren’t able to be home with their kids. I bet that has to be tough, but I can see how for some parents, who are home with their kids, and thought that it was going to be a two month thing. And it’s been a six month thing now, almost seven months, how that can be a little taxing.”
De’Sean Quinn, a Tuwkila City Councilmember and Strategic Planner for Metro Transit has a slightly different outlook on that issue. After losing his step-father this year to what he suspects were complications from the COVID-19 virus, he and his wife are treasuring the extra time at home they get to spend with their two boys who are six and 12 years old.
And while Quinns have remained just as, if not more, active in their children’s schooling (having served on the PTA board and kept consistent communication with their teachers), they’re recognizing there’s a new dimension to the typical parent-child conversations they’ve had over the years.
“I’m a great father. But [COVID and remote learning] showed me that I can even be a better father because the thing is they’re managing a whole lot more than we are,” Quinn said. “My 12 year old was struggling with a subject that came up in class which was about allowing them to express their feelings around Breonna Taylor. And so, he came over and said, ‘Hey, Dad, I want to have a private conversation with you.’ And…I could give the support to say it’s okay to express your feelings.”
Good or bad, while the parents have adjusted to this new way of doing things, all have noted the adjustments their kids have had to face in these unprecedented times have provided a big dose of real-world adult issues thrown in with the day to day issues of growing up.
In the Nobles’ household, both high schoolers are in orchestra and play the viola, which means earphones and closed doors have become a staple. Despite the $2,000 in equipment that the Nobles paid for cheerleading, the only place their daughter can wear her uniform is around the house because, due to COVID, all after-school and extracurricular events have been cancelled until further notice.
While Prince’s son is able to do socially distanced football workouts with his coach, the number of friends either child can see is in a very tight and small bubble and his daughter has a running tally of all the things she wants to do “when the coronavirus is over” including going camping and having a sleepover.
Despite the large and minor issues all three parents agree that they recognize that their home life situation is not always typical, especially for families of color, and that is something that stays on their minds as policymakers in their respective communities.
“I just heard from a legislator today, a statistic that there are between 150,000 and 450,000 kids who don’t have the digital equipment capability to do this remote learning,” Prince said. “And to me, that’s the problem. That means that they can’t even do the basic educational stuff and so they’re getting behind. And so I think as policymakers, we need to figure out what we can do to get those kids up and running and learning.”
There’s also other issues besides making sure there’s enough broadband and equipment to go around.
“A couple of other things worth noting is that there are kids who don’t have enough to eat who are now getting supported from the school district with lunches and I think we shouldn’t stop that after this is over,” Quinn said. “The second thing is…we also have to consider the intersectionality of housing…if you don’t have a home in this time then how are you getting an education? Are you learning at a shelter, at a friend or family’s house? Are you in your car? How are you getting access?”
For Nobles, the issue of housing and stability hits close to home.
“I think about families all the time whose kids maybe go to a daycare center, folks who leave their kids with family members or grandma because of lack of childcare, and family members who don’t have the capacity to navigate, or if they’re in areas where there is poor connectivity,” said Nobles. “I think about myself when I was younger and we moved around so much. We lived in shelters and were doubled up, and I just am thinking about kids who were like me when I was young and are walking around with their Chromebook. We had to leave items so many times. And I’m like, are there kids who have not been in class because they had to leave their Chromebook because they got kicked out of a shelter?”
This and doing her part to assist the community weighs heavily on Nobles’ mind. As a result, she oversees programs within the Tacoma Urban League to address key issues like getting broadband services through the Comcast Internet Essentials Program, posting Re-Opening Guidelines for businesses and organizations in the African American community, and a host of other resources posted on the organization’s website.
There’s been multiple lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 global pandemic and the subsequent issues of racial unrest as well as the long-held health, education, and economic disparities affecting African Americans. Those with the ability to affect policy in our community are keenly aware that what gets decided today could help eradicate some of these issues once and for all.
“This is obviously a tough time for everyone. And to get through it, we’ve got to go through it,” Prince said. “And so, we just need to make sure that we’re being safe, we’re making smart decisions, and that with everything we do from a policy perspective, we’re keeping the kids at the front of our mind.”