How Low-Income Students are Adapting to Virtual School

One of the issues urging schools to reopen is the negative impact virtual schooling has had on low-income families and students. Prior to the pandemic, working class parents could drop off their younger kids at school while they went to work; however, as we’ve switched to online learning, many parents are not eligible to physically return to work as they have to provide supervision for their children. Several accessibility issues in regard to attending online schooling plague impoverished families; moreover, problems that were already prominent in disadvantaged households have exacerbated from the switch to virtual learning. 

Students who struggle with connectivity issues, such as due to a lack of wifi or substandard Internet speeds, are at a systemic disadvantage when it comes to switching to virtual learning. More often than not, impoverished families are unable to afford what some would consider a necessity; as such, students are then penalized for something they cannot control. Students are attempting to deal with this problem by going to locations that offer reliable wifi; however, in the midst of a pandemic, that is often difficult. MDCPS has attempted to deal with this issue by lending out school tablets and offering wifi services for a reduced price to low income students.

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According to MDCPS, 73% of students in our county are eligible for free or reduced lunch. With COVID-19 further aggravating unemployment, numerous additional families have had to rely on assistance to feed themselves; however, an absence of physical schooling means families have to rely on food drives provided by MDCPS in an attempt to assist impoverished families. Still, these do not occur as frequently and can be an unreliable source of nutrition due to a lack of reliable transportation.  

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Poverty stricken students preceding COVID-19 have had to plan in advance how to fund their post-secondary educations with scholarships and grants. Systematically, impoverished students are at a disadvantage with academics, often having to sustain multiple jobs or take care of siblings in order to help support their households; accordingly, several students have had to turn to extracurricular activities, such as athletics, in an attempt to fund their future education. COVID-19 has limited these opportunities by reducing games and in turn exposure, which can minimize the chances of student-athletes being scouted.

Amongst all the problems that have arisen because of online school, one potential positive for students who help support their families is the ability to receive their education while at work. Previously, students were obliged to either not attend school or leave school early to go to their jobs as they had to support their household’s income. With the switch to virtual schooling, students are able to attend class from any location, helping students not only manage their necessities but still receive a quality education. 

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Low-income students have consistently been at a systemic disadvantage prior to a national pandemic; and, while the switch to virtual schooling has been implemented for the safety of students, the problems impoverished students have had to face on a daily basis have exacerbated and new problems have arisen. Despite efforts from the school board to alleviate these, students are still struggling and being punished for aspects of their life they cannot control. Virtual school has the potential to be beneficial; however, with the infrastructure in place at the moment, it is simply not a viable option for struggling households.