Last Thursday Every Child Valued (ECV), the non-profit that partners with the Lawrence Township Public Schools to improve educational outcomes for low-income children of color in the district, held its first School Board Candidates Forum at the First Baptist Church of Eggerts Crossing.
Three school board candidates out of a pool of six showed up to discuss the status of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in Lawrence’s seven schools. Participants and audience had the option of attending in person or watching on Zoom. The forum was also live streamed on the Black In Lawrence Facebook page.
ECV Board President Michelle Cash kicked off the proceedings, which included a welcome from Deacon McCray and a historical perspective by ECV Founder Fred Vereen, Jr., who in 1967 was instrumental in establishing Eggerts Crossing Village, an affordable housing community where many of the children live. The discussion was moderated by ECV board member and former school board member Laura Waters, who asked questions posed by the community.
This event was prompted by the ECV Board’s concern over the learning loss from COVID-19 school interruptions experienced by students in the program. An analysis by McKinsey found that U.S. students are currently five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading; for low-income students like those at ECV, COVID-19 school disruptions “widened preexisting opportunity and achievement gaps, hitting historically disadvantaged students hardest…The losses are not only greater but also piled on top of historical inequities in opportunity and achievement.”
While much of the funding for afterschool and summer tutoring, enrichment programs, breakfast programs, and other activities comes from external grants, ECV relies on its partnership with the district for teacher stipends. When the Board asked the district administative liaison to recognize this moment of urgency and provide additional funding for a reading specialist as well as a social worker to address social-emotional trauma, the request was rebuffed.
According to Cash, “We have an opportunity at this moment to meet the needs of our students who have fallen behind. The need is urgent and immediate, and the consequences of doing nothing will be felt in the students’ lives for years to come. ECV and the families we serve need help right now to recover from the economic and social crisis that has been so difficult for all of us. We wanted to bring the school board candidates to the Eggerts Crossing neighborhood to answer questions about the continuing inequities in our district, posed by the local community. We hope that the school board seated after the election will be a partner in advocating for the needs of lower income students and those of color.”