My ReACTion: Responding to COVID’s Impact on Students of Color

By Heather Peeler

It’s back-to-school season.  Summer is ending and students from pre-K to college are returning to school.  It’s a time for fresh starts and new ideas.  For many young people, the return to school is an urgent need. The pandemic created many hardships for students in Alexandria, and in particular, students of color.  Schools and the network of programs and organizations that support students are ready to assist.

In the same way that COVID exasperated health and economic racial disparities, it also amplified educational disparities despite educators’ best attempts amid unprecedented circumstances.   According to the US Department of Education’s report, Education in a Pandemic, the Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 on America’s Students pandemic:

  • Widened pre-existing academic disparities; in math and reading, some students are falling even further behind pre-pandemic progress,
  • Deepened the impact of disparities in access and opportunity for students of color due to the digital divide,
  • Created steeper learning challenges for K-12 students learning English,
  • Disrupted support for students with disabilities,
  • Increased needs for mental health services, and
  • Increased risks for abuse and violence at home.

Unfortunately, these challenges are compounded by families’ housing instability and food insecurity, compounding the pandemic’s toll on students of color.

I am hopeful that the return to in-school learning will enable children and youth to make up ground that was lost during the pandemic.  That’s why the Youth Support Network, a partnership between ACT, the Frank & Betty Wright Foundation, Alexandria City Public Schools, the City government, and youth program providers is so critical.  This initiative was launched last fall with the aim of creating a high-quality network of supports for Alexandria’s youth outside the classroom.  Due to historical structural and institutional racism, many young people of color in Alexandria do not enjoy the same outcomes as their white peers.  We must be intentional about taking proactive steps to combat disparities and ensure equal opportunity.

The focus on racial equity for the Youth Support Network is part of ACT for Alexandria’s commitment to racial equity and a community where all residents can achieve their full potential and where the color of one’s skin, ethnicity, or citizenship status does not determine their outcomes in life.  ACT’s board recently adopted a racial equity statement that affirms our commitment and invites our stakeholders to hold us accountable.  We strive to use our power and influence in service to community members who have been marginalized and discriminated against because of their race.

As our community continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, we must also consider how we can ensure a just recovery that does not continue to perpetuate the racial disparities of the past.  Coordinating and aligning supports for Alexandria’s youth is one way to address the immediate needs of our community today while also investing a brighter future.


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