Supporting Metro Atlanta Students Through Coronavirus
By Frank Brown, Esq. CEO, Communities in Schools of Atlanta
CIS Atlanta is proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our students, families, and school staff as metro Atlanta deals with the impact of COVID-19.
As we enter week two of remote learning for metro Atlanta students, it is more clear than ever that supplemental organizations like ours are critical to student achievement and to providing faculty support to public school administrators.
At CIS Atlanta, our first priority is to reduce parents’ and caregivers’ stress by making sure their children can maintain a strong educational foundation. But we recognize the stress of struggling to make ends meet is felt by the entire household.
In metro Atlanta, 16,000 children live in poverty. Thousands more are not far from it. In ordinary times, our case managers and site coordinators daily address challenges such as ensuring the children we serve have clean clothes, helping them with transportation, tutoring and much more.
In just a week’s time, we are already seeing the financial impact of coronavirus on their parents and caregivers. Some have been laid off, others have had their hours reduced. Many are trying to determine how to turn a penny into fifteen cents.
A precarious situation has become even more severe in the face of a pandemic and global economic crisis.
While a stay on evictions and foreclosures placed will guarantee a roof over families’ heads for a few more weeks, we know landlords and banks will come calling once the stay is lifted. We are working to provide rental assistance and utility bill support for when the bill collectors come knocking.
Of the 30,000 children we serve, 86 percent are on free or reduced lunch. Our site coordinators are supporting emergency food distribution centers across the region to deliver healthy, hot meals and ensure no child goes hungry while schools remain closed. When the school closures were announced, our staff immediately worked with the school districts and social workers to gather learning materials for homeless students whose families are in extended-stay motels. They check in daily with students to ensure they’re logged in to teleclass and continuing their education.
There’s an old saying in the African-American community that when America gets a cold, Black folks get pneumonia. Well, when it comes to the poor, the impact of a national crisis is compounded.
As grateful as I am that our staff has quickly risen to the occasion, I can’t help but be frustrated by the circumstances we find ourselves in – even before coronavirus.
As a country, as a state, and as a metro region, we must ask ourselves if the values we say we subscribe to are reflected in our public policies and the wellbeing of our residents.
Why is it that so many Atlanta children go hungry when the doors of the school are not open, if not for the philanthropic community? How can it be that parents working full-time only have enough money to focus on the absolute essentials, meaning children cannot participate in character-building activities outside of the classroom?
In “Utopia for Realists,” historian Rutger Bregman writes, “Scarcity consumes you. You’re less able to focus on other things that are also important to you.” Research shows scarcity has the same impact on your brain as a bad night’s sleep or even excessive alcohol intake.
Imagine trying to pull yourself up by the bootstraps when you wake up every morning with severe brain fog. To get the kids ready for school, to show up to work on time, to come home and help with homework. Imagine trying to focus on math and language arts when you’re not sure if mom has enough money this month to keep you and your siblings together under one roof.
While we are undoubtedly in the early stages of experiencing the economic and social impacts of coronavirus, now is the time for us to come together – even as we remain physically apart – and put our collective time and talents into ensure metro Atlanta’s poor and working-class families can survive what is to come and the new normal that lies ahead.
The 30,000 children we serve each have something to offer society. CIS Atlanta is going to do everything we can to stand up for them and their families during this difficult time. We invite you to stand with us.
To learn more about our work and to support our efforts, please visit https://www.cisatlanta.org.
Photo caption: Frank Brown and CIS Atlanta Site Coordinator, Jarrett Smith packing lunch bags for Clayton County students.