While You Were Socially Distancing . . .

If you’re like me, it is easy to miss the impact of COVID in my own neighborhood.  COVID for me has meant wearing a mask everywhere I go, attending most meetings on zoom, small in-person gatherings if any at all, and anxiety and uncertainty about the future.

Inconvenient, somewhat isolating, and disconcerting . . . and mostly unaware of devastating  developments here in my own county.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Well, thanks to an analysis carried out by the Black and Brown Coalition based on the first full assessments completed by Montgomery County Public Schools in the post-pandemic era (if we can call it that!), here is a statistic I can no longer keep out of my mind:

At the end of the 2018-2019 academic year, 82.8% of 2nd graders met the county standard of literacy readiness.  At the end of the 2020-2021 academic year, that percentage dropped to 47.5%, a full 35% drop!  This means that of the entire 2nd grade of this county, only half of the students were deemed ready to read.

A startling statistic.  Until you break it down by race.  It is probably no surprise, given the number of immigrant families represented, that 71% of the Hispano/Latinx population met the literacy readiness standard in 2019.  Not good but only 11% less than the overall percentage.  However, this last year, that percentage dropped by a whopping 46% down to 24.8 percent.  Whereas one half of the 2nd grade students overall are ready to read, only one quarter of the Latinx students are!  The score of students on the Free and Reduced Meal Plan (FARMS), regardless of race, fell by roughly the same amount:  from 70.6% to 25%. (For the full report, go HERE)

In my comfortable desk with coffee in hand, I can look out at those statistics and say: “Rough year – better luck next year!”  But it’s not that simple.  These drops aren’t made up in a year.  Or two.  Or three.  Struggling to read, students start falling well below grade level in not just reading but math, social studies, and science.  This sort of early handicap translates easily into high dropout rates.  If they somehow make it through high school and get a diploma, obstacles to a secondary degree become enormous, and the prospect of living in this county with any sense of job stability and satisfaction is daunting.

This is not just a bad year for education.  This is a tragedy.  There are other difficult realities emerging from COVID: loss of life, job loss, staggering mental health issues, etc.  But none grips my heart like disadvantaging kids right from the start who hold the most promise for our future.

And this is why so many in the Germantown Global Connection are jumping into action.  It is inspiring to watch folks in our group respond with such eager willingness to offer their skills and talents to help families, particularly those most vulnerable, with a leg up.  For example, one woman is seeing about offering financial planning classes to immigrant families.  Another is starting an internship program in construction at the local High School.  We have a group of lawyers who want to do pro bono work for immigrant families mired in expensive visa & green card processes.  A farmer in Poolesville wants to give away fresh produce to low-income families because of the proven track record it has of preventing health issues.  And many more are driving, feeding, and donating to groups that working directly with the most affected families.

Getting students through school successfully is a wrap-around project; it takes a whole community to do it.

How might you contribute?

It’s easy to get discouraged by these statistics.  But I hope this is a wake-up call to action.  It certainly has been for me.

If you’d like to discuss ways in which you can invest in a community hit hard by this pandemic – that’s right, Montgomery County! – email me or call and let’s talk.

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