As California schools reopen, families are concerned about the ongoing pandemic and its effect on the mental and physical toll it continues to have on students, teachers, and the community. A briefing organized by the Ethnic Media Service helped allay some of these concerns through the updates presented by CA State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond who shared his priorities for the coming school year – from vaccinations to what schools are doing to help students accelerate their learning and address the equity gap in education.
Joining from the STEM Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA) in Los Angeles to Celebrate First Day of School, he reported that 90% of students were back and safety measures were in place to protect against covid. Because in-person is vital for students’ mental health his office was doing everything to accommodate everyone’s needs including those with medical considerations.
Mr. Thurmond emphasized the importance of the vaccine and reiterated the fact that while California had taken more vaccines than any other state it was not enough to protect children who can’t get the vaccines yet. We are now dealing with a pandemic of the unvaccinated where 99% of complications are seen in the unvaccinated population. He shared that on a personal note his children were also back to school in public schools and were all vaccinated. Emphasis is being placed on masking for all students and staff. Furthermore, rapid regular covid tests have been delivered to assist in school opening which is good for containing the virus through quarantining infected people and keeping everyone safe.
To keep students safe, 500,000 households and multiple languages were reached to sensitize about the vaccine and as a reminder that the vaccines are free. Education is key in the trust factor about the vaccines, and so it is crucial to let everyone know that the vaccines are safe having been developed for years. He has also held community meetings and forums with community leaders to talk about the importance of making it possible and easy to get the vaccine without suffering any penalties or financial burden. Notable community influencers and activists like Dolores Huerta, Akim Abu Jamal, and others are now ambassadors alongside young people to get the word out about the vaccine.
The California state legislature is working hard to get counseling for students who are struggling. The covid pandemic has wreaked havoc and students need to avail themselves. There is now a universal kindergarten program to support families. Everything is being done including improving the ventilation system to support the mental well-being of all involved. More is also being done to bridge the learning gap suffered by students. Lack of internet affected some students gravely and work is being done for after-school programs to support students.
Building back better to support students better than before is a great opportunity. Access to computer science to get students prepared for great career opportunities and education is an advantage.
He expressed gratitude to students, families, staff, and educators who have shown tremendous resilience. He is also working with school districts to support students who have been affected by fire, racism such as what happened to George Floyd, or Asian racism, etc, immigration as in the unaccompanied minors, etc. It is vital to create an ethnic studies curriculum to support an education system that makes our students learn about their heritage as well as give better education to our students.
Finally, Mr. Thurmond expressed gratitude to ethnic media for amplifying the message to the community.