Bridging the Gap: Addressing Equity with Distance Learning

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Bridging the Gap: Addressing Equity with Distance Learning

05/04/20

  • Mark Quattrocchi delivers hotspots to Two Rock Union School

Bridging the Gap: Addressing Equity with Distance Learning
Mark Quattrocchi, FAIA

Lately, I’m reminded of Columbian author Gabriel García Márquez’s novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, where protagonists Fermina and Florentino are left forever adrift on the Magdalena River, confined to a ship bearing the Cholera flag. Similarly, COVID-19 has left us all a bit adrift in our shelter-in-place realities, awaiting the rescue of a yet-to-be-developed vaccine or at least an N95 mask. 

In the face of this dystopian reality, I find myself in awe of the resourcefulness and agility of my QKA colleagues as they managed a forced exodus from office to home while nearly seamlessly keeping projects —  from master-planning to construction — focused and on track. They say a crisis reveals people’s true mettle; that is certainly the case for this firm’s 60-plus professionals, with whom I am honored to work. 

Likewise, I have seen firsthand how schools improvised and adapted to distance learning, previously in only limited use at the university level. It reminds me of the prediction of a visionary superintendent I work with, who flatly stated that the school of the future may be no school at all. How prophetic those words now seem. Our remarkable, passionate teachers turned on a dime to create all-new lesson plans and launch distance learning on digital platforms that previously didn’t exist for them. Without the planning, training and equipment to implement what should have taken years to accomplish, our heroic teachers and staff pulled the rabbit out of a hat, creating remote classrooms – digitally and with regular hard-copy deliveries.

Schools in Need

Like so many of us, I watched this unfold in schools across our communities with an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Lately, I’ve been calling some of the more rural and economically disadvantaged North Bay schools – some that we work with and some that we do not. Listening to their stories of material shortages is heart-wrenching, as we see up close the uneven playing field these disadvantaged schools experience — from no laptops, to laptops but no Wi-Fi, and to Wi-Fi “hotspots” but no cell coverage. These under-resourced schools are experiencing shortages even at the most basic levels, such as just one copier, no copy paper and — most heart wrenching — out-of-work parents with few groceries plus, for the undocumented, no access to unemployment or stimulus checks.

From these calls and the gratitude that we’re still working, as of late April Quattrocchi Kwok Architects earmarked $30,000 and is distributing materials and funding to schools in need, including: 

  • 60 Wi-Fi hotspots — nearly as scarce and almost as basic as toilet paper
  • Nearly 35 cases (350 reams) of copier paper
  • Contributions to the Roseland Public School's Family Food Relief Fund
  • Contributions to Keep Kids Learningnational Coronavirus related funding for economically disadvantaged schools from Donors Choose – an organization QKA annually supports through grants to our staff that allow my colleagues to give to individual teachers

These schools vary from the remote Two Rock Elementary School in west Sonoma County, to the suburban and largely Latino schools of the Roseland School District in Santa Rosa. I was taken by their reluctance to “ask for too much”; for example it was only when I challenged a principal requesting only three hotspots that I discovered there were 12- families with no Wi-Fi access. We’re sending 15.

The Schools We Work With

To our school district partners, we are eternally grateful at how well you have accommodated us in the way we work together in design and construction. Thanks to video conferencing and virtual design meetings, we are still making important progress on your projects. Together, we’ve proven we can virtually meet, even in ways that used to rely on interpersonal interaction and the ebb and flow of face-to-face conversation, such as design presentations and taking teacher input. This virtual work is enabling us to make tangible progress on these important projects.

In such a novel way of working, we appreciate your understanding of its inherent inefficiencies and limitations, including those of our consultants and State agencies. We are committed to your projects and are grateful for your partnering on some limited reprioritization, allowing us to focus our energies on your most important projects. These adjustments are working and have helped us ensure that your needs are best met.

Where to From Here?

Lately, talk is turning not just to when, but also how we return to school and work. While we know this will take time, QKA has started acquiring the tools we’ll need to allow a safe return to work including masks, thermometers, heating system HEPA filters and similar social distancing paraphernalia. We may also be working in shifts to better protect staff. When the time comes, we want to be ready to return to the office and focus our energies on the work we love – designing places for kids to learn.

However and whenever we return to school and work, I feel some things may permanently change; and not all for the worse. Alongside important in-person meetings, video meetings will flourish, saving valuable travel time and resources. Student learning will likely be reshaped for some, including limited distance-learning, more independent projects and perhaps a different approach to teaching to standards. Only hindsight will tell if student life changes from the pre-COVID reality. Perhaps that superintendent’s hypothesis of a future of no schools at all won’t come to pass; but surely, when there is a return to school, we’ll be less likely to hear that change is impossible. Teachers across this country have clearly refuted that. 

I wish you all the best and hope you remain safe… 

Mark

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