Equity Considerations for the Return to School
Local school districts continue to roll out their back to school plans, sharing what the learning environment will look like for students, families and teachers in the coming weeks.
In southern Michigan, the Hillsdale County Intermediate School District (HCISD) announced a delayed start to the school year to give the district additional time to provide training and secure adequate safety equipment to support in-person learning opportunities.
Many of the area school districts have smaller student counts and operate under tight budgets, making the purchase of safety and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) a challenge.
To address the financial burden facing the districts, the Hillsdale County Community Foundation (HCCF) has provided funding from its unrestricted fund to cover the cost of thermometers, hand sanitizer, sanitizing stations, cleaning supplies and masks to ensure both staff and students can return to a healthy environment.
In addition to their role as a funder, HCCF has been serving as a thought partner and convener on the school district’s return to learning task force.
Sharon Bisher, president and CEO of HCCF told CMF there are high levels of poverty in the rural community, creating challenges especially when it comes to access to high-speed and reliable internet for online learning. In any given district, 13-40% of residents don’t have access to high-speed internet and for those who do have access, affordability may be a challenge.
“We are looking at equity through a poverty lens. Not all of our students have access to high-speed internet or have the ability to return to school with proper PPE,” Bisher said. “Not every family looks the same nor has the same ability to function within these environments. Many of our families do not have adequate child care available or the ability to teach their children outside of the classroom. Many homes face the harsh realities of trauma and neglect. These vulnerable children are already dealing with a burden to show up to school in addition to all of the things that will now be asked of them. So many of our children will fall behind or be left behind without the proper support system in place.”
Bisher said with other learning opportunities paused due to the pandemic the community foundation is concerned about the impact on students.
“The ability to meet for afterschool programs, organized sports and service club opportunities are in jeopardy of being placed on hold,” Bisher said. “College fairs across the state are being canceled and many postsecondary institutions are moving to online learning. We are concerned about the ability to get students a postsecondary learning opportunity, and their ability to be successful in an online-only environment.”
HCCF will continue to work with and support HCISD as faculty and staff prepare to welcome back students after Labor Day.
Many CMF members have been working to address the digital divide and range of inequities and challenges facing students, particularly for our most vulnerable learners.
Launch Michigan has been engaging in outreach to understand and lift up the challenges and inequities facing students in the remote learning environment, digging into the experiences and recommendations from Michigan families shared through three statewide surveys and a series of focus groups.
Launch Michigan provided CMF with a preview of key takeaways from the research, which is expected to be released in full later this month. The research highlighted the issues facing students and families when it comes to the digital divide. According to Launch Michigan’s analysis, Michigan educators say more students need to connect with essential technology tools. Of the high school educators surveyed, 82% said internet access was a major issue for their students, and geographic factors appear to play a role. According to Launch Michigan, this finding was supported by parents, even the more affluent of whom reported that their students lacked sufficient access to much-needed technology about one-third of the time.
CMF will share the full scope of findings from Launch Michigan once its analysis is released later this month.
Last week the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) announced the launch of an education equity fund to help districts address technology gaps and mental health needs that have been exacerbated due to the pandemic.
The equity fund includes more than $37 million from the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. Eligible school districts can apply for funds through MDE.
Learn about MDE’s education equity fund.
Systemic Racism in Public Housing System: Flint TRHT’s Approach to Community Healing
A year after the groundbreaking of a mixed-income housing development in Flint, we are learning more about the community planning and engagement behind the project to help create a more equitable future for a Flint neighborhood and its residents.
Since 2014 the city of Flint and the Flint Housing Commission have been collaborating to relocate Atherton East Townhomes. Atherton East is a public housing complex that was built on a flood plain and isolated from bus routes. The city has shared that relocating Atherton East residents to new mixed-income housing that’s more centrally located and closer to resources and amenities would help move the community “towards social equity in Flint.”
The city of Flint’s planning department reached out to Flint TRHT (Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation) that’s led by the Community Foundation of Greater Flint (CFGF) to help facilitate community conversations around equity and systemic racism in the public housing system.
Flint TRHT recently shared a glimpse into this work in the Michigan TRHT Year 3 Report, which provides narratives and evaluations of the four Michigan TRHT sites’ community engagement efforts over the past year.
In the Atherton East project, Flint TRHT worked with the city on the relocation and community engagement process by facilitating community planning sessions, visioning sessions and racial healing circles with residents of the housing complex, the neighborhoods adjacent to the new housing, and city staff and partner agencies. The sessions were focused on building relationships between community members and ensuring that the new development is inclusive and equitable.
Through the facilitated sessions, Flint TRHT shared that the conversations “uncovered significant trauma among the public housing residents” but also demonstrated how “communities can heal from decades of racist policy and work collectively to improve the quality of life for all.”
The Flint TRHT-led sessions resulted in an action plan for continued relationship building between the resident groups, as well as a determination that city staff needed further training on implicit bias as well as team building to cultivate trust among staff.
“Our success lies in using local healing practitioners and listening to residents. We are learning of the hopes and dreams Atherton East residents have for their new home along with the trauma they have suffered in the previous environment,” Lynn Williams, community engagement officer at CFGF said. “This is our chance to make it right, and let the residents define what they want their neighborhood to be. We are also helping city planners achieve what they felt like is an elusive goal of the master plan – social equity.”
While COVID-19 paused future gatherings, CFGF said the relationship building has begun and future action planning will continue to include all stakeholders.
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) effort is a national, community-based process of transformative, sustainable change, addressing the historic and contemporary effects of racism. Michigan is home to four of the 14 TRHT collaborations in the country. The sites in Battle Creek, Flint, Kalamazoo and Lansing have been working deeply in TRHT efforts, supported by CMF with funding from WKKF. Learn more about TRHT.
Connect with Flint TRHT.
CMF Members Support Transportation Service for Area Residents
With funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund and the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation (GTRCF), the Bay Area Transportation Authority (BATA) is piloting a new service to provide additional transportation options to Traverse City area residents.
Link On-Demand allows users to request rides via a smartphone app and track their vehicle, all for a flat rate. BATA transit vans and busses will pick up riders and drop them off at their destination. The pilot launched August 1 and will continue through July 2021. If the program proves successful, BATA may provide the service permanently.
A one-way trip costs a flat fee of $6 per person, with a rate of $3 for seniors, students, persons with disabilities and veterans and active military members.
BATA hopes the service will serve as a more accessible alternative to other rideshare apps such as Lyft and Uber by combining the convenience of the apps with affordable pricing and accommodations for seniors and people with disabilities, as well as providing service to those living in rural areas.
The Health Fund and GTRCF took interest in Link On-Demand because of its focus on children, seniors, and families living in poverty to whom transportation access may be a barrier to access quality health care.
“Health-related transportation is one of the Health Fund’s focus areas, and this project proposed a unique way to solve some of the health-related transportation challenges in the Grand Traverse Region through a strong community collaborative effort in a rural area,” Megan Murphy, senior program officer at the Health Fund said.
“We came to understand that medical patient access to transportation was an important social determinant of health and a major source of unreimbursed expense for health providers,” David Mengebier, CEO of GTRCF said. “Missed appointments and the resulting poor health outcomes is a particularly challenging problem in rural areas like ours where transportation options are more limited.”
Both organizations have included non-emergency medical transportation as recent funding priorities, as they hope their work will further mitigate barriers preventing Traverse City area residents from receiving quality health care in a timely manner. However, they know the work goes beyond providing affordable and convenient transportation options.
“Our health and well-being initiative has morphed and grown into a broader community development strategy that focuses on achieving a set of environmental, societal and economic goals,” Mengebier said. “We came to understand that, in addition to transportation, other social determinants of health involving things like a person’s education, economic status, access to clean air and water, which are upstream from traditional clinical care, have an enormous impact on their physical and mental health.”
Learn about Link On-Demand.
Four CMF Members Supporting Small Businesses through Regional Resiliency Fund
A fund that supports small businesses in Benzie, Grand Traverse and Leelanau Counties that have been affected by the pandemic continues to grow through the support of CMF members.
The Regional Resiliency Fund is a joint program of Traverse Connect and Venture North and provides grants of up to $5,000 to small businesses. The fund was created in June through a grant of $200,000 from the Consumers Energy Foundation to Venture North, a community development financial institution (CDFI), to help small businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic. Since its launch, DTE Energy Foundation, Leelanau Township Community Foundation and Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation have provided grants to the fund.
“Small businesses are vital to our culture and quality of life in Leelanau Township,” Joan Moore, executive director of the community foundation said. “Venture North and the Regional Resiliency Fund provide an opportunity for us to support the businesses and families that are caught in the global pandemic, the likes of which we’ve never seen.”
Venture North shared that in the three-county region there are over 8,000 companies with nine or fewer employees, many of which have not been the recipients of other COVID-19-related stimulus funding. The fund is now in its second round of grant funding and has already awarded $200,000 in pandemic relief aid to 78 small businesses in the region.
“Thriving small businesses in northern Michigan not only make a positive impact on our communities, but they’re also critical in driving economic recovery and progress statewide as well,” Lynette Dowler, executive director and president, DTE Energy Foundation said. “Our partnership with Venture North Funding and Development will deliver essential support to businesses across Benzie, Grand Traverse, and Leelanau Counties. Together, we’ll enable small business owners to focus on what matters most: serving their customers and growing their enterprises. We know this grant will empower entrepreneurs across the three-county area to continue to write their success stories, and we’re honored to be even a small part of their next chapters.”
The Regional Resiliency Fund will continue to award new rounds of grants to businesses as it receives grants and charitable contributions.