WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- With the school year upon us, educators serving children in need are facing their greatest challenge yet, as the pandemic exacerbates existing barriers to education and the national conversation on racial inequities has taken center stage. First Book, a non-profit social enterprise dedicated to educational equity, has responded with a collection of resources developed based on feedback from its Network of more than 475,000 educators of kids in need nationwide.
A study recently unveiled by First Book highlights the educational crisis intensified by COVID-19. According to the study, there are two key factors contributing to this educational crisis: the mental/social-emotional health of kids and families and a widening digital divide making the need for resources even more critical.
"As a country, we're facing multiple – and interlocking – crises in educational equity. The first is a crisis of digital access. According to our study, more than 40% of kids in need face 'back to school' without access to the internet or devices, essentially locking them out of learning. In addition, our study indicates that 91% of their educators have cited the mental health of their students as a top concern," said Kyle Zimmer, President, CEO and Co-founder of First Book. "In addition, issues of racial equity also permeate our schools. First Book has stepped up to provide resources and expertise to directly address these barriers so children in need are ready to learn – whether that's in the classroom or from their homes."
Responding directly to the concerns and needs expressed by the First Book Network, the organization and its partners have deployed a battery of resources and programming via its back-to-school microsite.
Managing Mental Health: Addressing Grief, Trauma and Social & Emotional Learning From basic unmet human needs like food and clean clothes to trauma intensified by the isolation and added stress resulting from COVID-19, kids are living – and learning – without the added support and normalcy that schools provide. Educators are deeply concerned about their ability to address these issues without support.
In response, First Book offered a free webcast and Q&A for educators on August 11 to discuss tangible ways to support grieving children. Presented by First Book partner, the New York Life Foundation, the webcast featured Dr. David Schonfeld, a leading developmental-behavioral pediatrician and founder of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement.
In addition, First Book offers a range of tools and resources to help educators and programs support Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) skills development and address trauma including a Trauma Toolkit, the Promoting Respect and Empathy Toolkit and the Grief, Loss and Healing Toolkit.
Bridging the Digital Divide First Book's survey of educators also revealed that 40% of children in need in the U.S. do not have reliable internet and almost 40% are without access to functioning devices. As kids head back to school – with a majority facing distance learning or a hybrid approach – what was an existing crisis in education for children in poverty has now been exacerbated as millions of students do not have access to enable virtual learning. These children are isolated without educational support and are falling further behind.
To take a step toward addressing the digital divide that is crippling our nation's educational system, First Book worked with Intel, CDW-G and the LEGO Foundation to provide a comprehensive package of distance learning resources to 45 school districts in need across the country. Creating Learning Connectionsprovides learning solutions designed to fuel education during this critical time by supporting thousands of students and families in Title I schools impacted by the pandemic. Students will receive critical at-home and in–the-classroom learning resources, including internet connectivity, technology devices and hands-on STEAM learning solutions.
Addressing Race, Representation & Inclusivity In a 2019 survey of educators registered with First Book, 66% said they would like to engage their students more proactively in conversations about race. Based on these findings, First Book partnered with Pizza Hut to compile a series of resources informed by leading anti-bias, antiracist experts Britt Hawthorne, Tiffany Jewell, Liz Kleinrock, Cornelius Minor, Catherine Wigginton Greene, and Christine Platt to provide educators with guidance on engaging in these conversations.
Empowering Educators includes an introductory guidebook on antiracist pedagogy, an instructional video series, and other forthcoming educational resources. Developed for K-12 educators, the collection includes suggested books and activities to use with children at various ages, and features guidance on conversation modeling as well as answers to some of the most asked questions received in First Book's 2019 survey. Empowering Educators resources can also be used by organizations, community action agencies, and families looking to build their understanding and awareness around creating equity in education.
The series was launched with a webinar attended by nearly 7,000 educators, Empowering Educators: A Convening on Racial Equity in Education, was a collaboration between First Book, Pizza Hut, and American University's Antiracist Research and Policy Center, and featured the National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and award-winning author Jason Reynolds, award-winning teacher Liz Kleinrock, and Christine Platt, Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy and Amanda Taylor of American University. This inspiring conversation provided actionable input for educators as well as expert guidance on teaching humanity and the importance of antiracist teaching.
As a companion to the Empowering Educators Collection, Pizza Hut and First Book have selected five of the most popular diverse titles on the First Book Marketplace and re-issued them in first-ever, affordable paperback editions. The soon-to-be-released paperbacks are warm, affirming picture books that explore meaningful elements of identity that will be relatable to all readers. Pizza Hut selected these titles from First Book's Stories for All Project™, which curates new, relevant, high-quality books representing diverse characters, voices, and life circumstances and makes them available and affordable to educators who support kids in need.
Teaching About Diversity in STEM/STEAM Educators are looking to broaden the scope of their curriculum to be more inclusive, providing diverse viewpoints for all students and to ensure that all students can see themselves in STEM careers. In response, First Book and the Aerospace Industries Association launched an online Diversity in STEM Calendar, to celebrate culture, diversity and inclusion throughout the school year. The August 2020 – July 2021 calendar features month-long observances, religious holidays, and dates with cultural, historic or inclusive significance in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. To foster budding scientists of all kinds, the calendar also features easy science experiments that can be conducted – in classes, community programs or at home.
The calendar adds to the existing STEM/STEAM resources already available on the First Book Marketplace under the Books and Activities categories. Educators, parents-as-educators and others looking for ways to engage and support conversations around culture, diversity and future careers in STEM can download the free Diversity in STEM Calendar here.
METHODOLOGY This study was designed by First Book Research & Insights and polled 2,623 educators. Participants from this study were registered First Book members, who work in Title I or Title I eligible classrooms or programs in which at least 70 percent of the children served come from low-income families. The survey, fielded from April 28 - May 5, 2020, polled the First Book Network, the largest network of professionals – more than 475,000 – working with kids in need to remove barriers to quality education. The survey was underwritten by the Intel Corporation®. To view the full survey results, visit FirstBook.org/COVIDResearch.
ABOUT FIRST BOOK Founded in Washington, D.C., in 1992 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit social enterprise, First Book is a leader in the educational equity field. Over its 28-year history, First Book has distributed more than 200 million books and educational resources, with a retail value of more than $2 billion. First Book believes education offers children in need the best path out of poverty. First Book breaks down barriers to quality education by providing its Network of more than 475,000 registered teachers, librarians, after school program leaders, and others serving children in need with millions of free and affordable new, high-quality books, educational resources, and basic needs items through the award-winning First Book Marketplace nonprofit eCommerce site. The First Book Network comprises the largest and fastest-growing community of formal and informal educators serving children in need.
First Book also expands the breadth and depth of the education field through a family of social enterprises, including First Book Research & Insights, its proprietary research initiative, and the First Book Accelerator, which brings best-in-class research to the classroom via relevant, usable educator resources. First Book Impact Funds target support to areas of need, such as rural communities or increasing diversity in children's books.