On Super Bowl Sunday, amid clever ads by companies from Tide to Uber Eats, there was a 30-second postseason spot featuring NFL offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum talking about equity in education.

 In a collection of ads that were nostalgic (hello again, Wayne’s World and Dolly Parton), philosophical (a beer company asking if “you’re happy because you win or you win because you’re happy”), and downright weird (Jason Alexander’s mug on a hoodie), Beachum’s postseason ad was on point following a year of tremendous upheaval and trauma in American schools. In the ad—which promotes the NFL’s Inspire Change campaign and the Players Coalition, an organization that works with 1,400 professional athletes, coaches, and owners to improve social justice and racial equality—Beachum asks a question that’s always on our minds as educators, and has been critical over the past year: “What does it take to prepare everyone for the road ahead?”

It’s not obvious in the spot, but this ad was largely shot at Brooklyn Laboratory Charter Schools (Brooklyn Lab), and showcases the work of our high schoolers. We are a proud partner of the Players Coalition and have been honored to host co-founder Anquan Boldin and Beachum at our school in downtown Brooklyn, and honored to work together to rewrite the story of what the communities we serve deserve. We have benefited from this partnership through technology and STEAM-focused workshops, field trips, and events, including our first TEDxYouth@BrooklynLab night of TEDx talks. The ad portrays Boldin and Beachum engaging Brooklyn Lab student leaders, and amplifying youth advocacy for social justice, racial equity, and education. This school year, Beachum and the Players Coalition are also supporting our students with subsidized hotspot devices and unlimited WiFi access.

The combination of activities supported by the Players Coalition is part of our shared effort to use education to close the achievement gap, which disproportionately affects students with special educational needs and low-income students of color—the backgrounds of many Brooklyn Lab scholars.

Throughout 2020, our country has struggled with two pandemics—the COVID-19 public health crisis and the centuries-long pandemic of brutality toward African Americans and other people of color. Both of these crises have intersected at our public schools, exacerbating existing systemic inequalities in education. Addressing these issues should be a primary focus for educators. As Beachum says in the Players Coalition ad, we are all charged with preparing students for the road ahead: me, you, and all of us.

At Brooklyn Lab, we have thought about what that means for educators in the midst of our dual pandemics.

So, #WhatDoesItTake ?

We are contributing to the conversation by identifying four areas that need more investment to build a system of education that embeds equity at the core: 

Leadership and commitment to meaningful change. “We have both a historic opportunity and an obligation to create approaches to reopening schools that work for all groups of students all of the time, not just some groups of students some of the time,” writes Russlynn Ali, co-founder and CEO of the XQ Institute, a Brooklyn Lab partner. We invite students, educators, and families to help Rethink Together. As Richard Culatta, president of ISTE, puts it, “This is a once-in-a-generation moment to rebuild schooling in a way that honors the unique strengths, interests, and abilities of students.” 

Technology access, connected infrastructure, and data interoperability. When school doors closed last spring, educators had to reimagine every aspect of school to make virtual education work, and in many cases it didn’t—not because of the lack of effort or ingenuity on the part of school leaders and teachers but in large part because of lack of access to technology, particularly in low-income communities. Our nation needs access to low- and no-cost wireless, high speed internet in schools, and connected devices. But we also need to remember that equity goes beyond devices. Our schools need well-connected data systems that deliver accurate, actionable, real-time information, while allowing for seamless, secure, and controlled exchange of data between applications. Data interoperability is a powerful tool to transform teaching and learning and empower parents and students with their own data. Educators and creators of digital education tools interested in learning more can explore the work of InnovateEDU’s Project Unicorn.

A commitment to meeting the needs of all students. In the scramble to shift to online learning, the needs of vulnerable students, particularly students living with disabilities, were too often put on the back burner. It’s time to shift our mindset and consider the needs of our most vulnerable students first. Family communication, online instruction, teleconferencing and counseling, independent study, blended learning, needs assessment, and data tracking and analytics are each stronger and more effective when they are designed to meet the needs of all learners. School leaders seeking to rethink their approach can learn more from the Educating All Learners Alliance, a coalition of organizations committed to resource-sharing and community-building to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Support educators to educate the whole child. Beachum asks: “What does it take to ensure that no one is left behind…” We’re heartened by the new administration’s calls for a national corps of community educators to support student success. Our nation needs innovative models that support student success, and help provide a blueprint for a pathway forward. One framework for this support is success coaching, which we have implemented at Brooklyn Lab with the help of Turnaround for Children. We believe that every student needs a coach in their corner: a trusted adult they can go to for support. Success coaches can provide their students with the right support at the right time to help students meet learning goals. Building on work done by EL Education, Brooklyn Lab has also created small group “advisories” composed of students and facilitated by caring adults who prioritize safety, belonging, and proactively addressing social and emotional concerns.

#WhatDoesItTake

It takes commitment
It takes action
It takes investment

#WhatDoesItTake

It takes me
It takes you
It takes all of us

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