Maria: “How do I organize assignments?”

Elizabeth: “This is a catastrophe!”

Lisa: “Our students require a friendly face.”

COVID-19 effected an education disruption that left students frazzled, parents desperately tackling a new role as teacher, and teachers overwhelmed by the challenges of online learning.

In March, schools across the nation were shut down. In New York City alone, this separated one million students from an equal access to education. By April, online classrooms were still not ready. By May, some students still had not received the technology necessary to continue learning. This was a true crisis.

So, as the Department of Education announced disappointingly ambiguous plans for remote learning, I launched The Homeroom Project. Homeroom would ensure for students exactly what the name implies: academic continuity and a united community. In just a week our website was published. Our team sent countless emails to public, private, elementary and high schools, and to students from across the nation. We held Zoom meetings between school administrations to create partnerships between disparate communities. We rallied other Gen Z’ers who shared our desire for change to step up and help our peers.

We continuously accomplished our goals: providing reassurance to students, comfort for parents, and support for teachers as we all tackle a new kind of learning. We made the distance between the Lycée Français de New York and PS-84, between Riverdale and MS-54, disappear. Our community has torn down the otherwise present distinctions between schools. This is a remarkable specificity to the Homeroom Project and to Gen Z as a whole: we are not here for competition, but to collaborate and support one another.

Today, Homeroom is a peer-tutoring network with over two hundred students collaborating in three languages across five countries and ten states. We have taken advantage of technology to connect students from all over. Students in bilingual programs are keeping their language skill. Francesca, not fluent herself, was relieved her first grader could continue practicing his French. Our student tutors create worksheets for students and parents in English, French, and Spanish. Weekly, Chloe hosts a reading session for an eager group of first graders. And, most significantly, we have scheduled over 200 tutoring sessions. Ciara is thrilled to guide Bellamy through fraction problems in math while Camille is teaching Violet how to read her first stories.

Gen Z was the most creative in this pandemic and reclaimed a better access to education. However, the pandemic only highlighted these issues; they were already extremely prevalent. Inequality in education is a challenge too ignored in the 21st Century. There is a stunning disparity between students, especially in access to resources and technology, and the scarce, hesitant support for learning disabilities.

These inequalities are even more prominent as the 21st Century educators try and gear us towards “college and career readiness”, vague goals that push the fortunate students into a whirlwind of anxiety and leave others behind. There is increasing demand to have knowledge in new and constantly evolving skills, especially in the domain of technology. However, the ability to create or to innovate is hindered by a student’s environment.

Before even worrying about which tablet or computer students are missing, many students face harsher challenges: homelessness, hunger, no health care. In the U.S. public school data base, 1.36 million students are homeless and over 16 million children face hunger. How, then, can they tackle an entire education?

And the reality is, while these students are left behind, others keep moving forward at increasingly rapid pace. Administrations keep advocating for a seemingly “holistic review” while Standardized Testing agencies appear more interested in business then student well-being. So, Gen Z, this is a call to you. Where do you want to see education’s trajectory lead? And what role will you play in supporting your peers?

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