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News Too Real: - A talk with Thurmond and Haynes about education and COVID-19 reveals challenges

Black student college enrollment was already decreasing pre-pandemic

By ONME Newswire

In this episode of News Too Real, producer host, Julia Dudley Najieb, reviews last month's media briefing with California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond followed by a one-on-one interview with California Community College Board of Governors President Pamela Haynes about students getting back to class during the COVID-19 pandemic. They talk about the changes made in education to help students overall, post-pandemic.

Dudley Najieb also reviews the recent California Community College webinar exploring the disproportionate enrollment of Black students: In the free webinar September 1, Sounding the Alarm: Addressing the Declining Representation of Black Students in California’s Community Colleges leading scholars and education policy advocates address the declining college enrollment of Black students significantly impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism prior to the pandemic.

Thurmond emphasizes the COVID-19 vaccination availability and safety measures for parents

During a media briefing last month, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond discussed the safety measures put in place to resume in-person instruction; he put a strong emphasis on the the need for students and families to take the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.

"I think it is okay to be scared," said Thurmond, who continued, "let that fear translate into action that will ensure that our students can get an education, and that we keep them, their family members, and their educators safe. That starts with vaccines--I just want to continue to remind everyone that it is not too late to get a vaccine."

Thurmond also discussed the addendums California put in place for parents who have to take off work to get the COVID-19 vaccine, or for those who may suffer side effects after the vaccine.

"Even if you need to take time off after you get your vaccine, you are guaranteed by California state law the ability to take time off to get a vaccine," explained Thurmond who discussed the successful 60,000 virtually attended online forum to address questions parents had about the COVID-19 vaccine and the back-to-school plan.

Also more than $4 billion for mental counseling and health is being provided from the state of California to K-12 districts to service from the age of birth to age 25.

"We recognize many students have experienced the trauma of the pandemic," said Thurmond.

About Tony Thurmond:

Tony Thurmond was sworn in as the 28th California State Superintendent of Public Instruction on January 7, 2019. He is an educator, social worker, and public-school parent, who has served the people of California for more than ten years in elected office. Previously, Superintendent Thurmond served on the Richmond City Council, West Contra Costa Unified School Board, and in the California State Assembly, representing District 15. Superintendent Thurmond served on the Richmond City Council from 2005-2008. While on the council he served as Liaison to Richmond’s Youth Commission and Workforce Investment Board and the Council Liaison to the West Contra Costa Unified School District. He was chair of Richmond's 2005 Summer Youth Program which employed 200 local teens. He also served from 2008-2012 on the West Contra Costa School Board, where he coordinated a plan to keep schools open during the 2008 recession. In the State Assembly, Superintendent Thurmond served on the Assembly Education, Health, and Human Services Committees.

He chaired the Assembly Labor Committee and the Assembly Select Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Education.

In recognition of his social service leadership, Superintendent Thurmond has been a fellow in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Children and Family Fellowship program.

Superintendent Thurmond earned dual master's degrees in Law and Social Policy and Social Work (MSW) from Bryn Mawr College. He lives in Richmond, CA with his two daughters.

Black student college enrollment down

As California Community Colleges is re-opening their 116 colleges to serve 2.1 million students throughout California, they are not only aware of the challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are also very concerned about specified segments of their student population who have suffered tremendously--Black and Brown students are having a difficult time re-enrolling to college for various reasons. In fact, the statewide issue of the lack broadband access for communities of colors or disadvantaged communities is at the forefront--a task that will take a California-wide community effort.

"The Board of Governors has made that a high priority for our community colleges; we recognize we cannot do this by ourselves." said California Community Colleges Board of Governors President Pamela Haynes. She also noted that the Biden Administration has noted this to be a problem nationwide.

"We recognize that for many of our students that its the tech, its the WiFi, its the broadband that act as barriers for their success."

Haynes noted that during the pandemic that many of their campuses were giving away computers and loaning them to students because of the lack of access or giving them a very inexpensive way for them to get access to WiFi. Students also had the challenge of sharing the Wifi at home; since everyone is at home during the pandemic, the shared WiFi, which means shared bandwidth, became very problematic.

Community colleges serve many different segments of the student population--certificated programs, vocational training programs, to student-parents wanting to complete their college education one step at a time, the drop in enrollment for Black students was already in crisis mode prior to the pandemic, starting from the years 2014.

"We have to be intentional, and we have to say the things that we need out loud," said Haynes. "We have to do this work out loud."

"We really needed to have those folks (parents and students of color) know more about the community colleges to help us and design a media campaign as well as other elements to a campaigns that really spoke to our African-American communities wherever they were, " said Haynes. "We really had to go out into those communities and ask them what they knew about community colleges."

Haynes discussed the active engagement all the campuses are doing with their new and former students, using unique outreach methods to get them back to class. From informing students about the fee waiver that has been in place since 1989 which most students qualify for or to support programs such as, Umoja, for Black students to unique transfer opportunities to Black colleges.

California Community Colleges has over 200 career education programs; parents and students can go to to get more information on assistance to afford college through the special programs launched during the pandemic.

About Pamela Haynes:

Pamela Haynes was appointed to the California Community Colleges Board of Governors by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016; she was elected Board of Governors President in 2020. Haynes is the first African American to lead the governing board of the nation’s largest system of higher education, and this is the first time two women will serve as president and vice president.

The board elects a president and vice president every November to serve one-year terms.

Haynes has served on the Los Rios Community College District Board of Trustees since 1999, including four terms as board president. She also sits on the Board of Trustees for the Community College League of California and the Los Rios Foundation Board. Before retiring from state service in 2012, she served for eight years as a deputy director and senior consultant for the California State Assembly, Speaker’s Office of Member Services. Prior to that, she was the legislative director for the Capitol Office of Assemblymember Mark Ridley-Thomas. Haynes has also worked for the California Labor Federation, ALF-CIO; the City of Sacramento; the Bureau of State Audits; and Department of Health Services.

A Santa Monica College transfer student, she has a bachelor’s degree from University of California, Los Angeles and a master’s degree in Public Administration from Harvard University.

Info bits about the webinar addressing the decline of Black student enrollment

In the free webinar September 1, Sounding the Alarm: Addressing the Declining Representation of Black Students in California’s Community Colleges leading scholars and education policy advocates address the declining college enrollment of Black students significantly impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism prior to the pandemic.

President Haynes said important take-away for her from the webinar is to make sure their are more professors in the classroom that clearly represent the Black student population.

"We have to break down barriers where they are (African-American students), and there are barriers, there continue to be barriers," explained Haynes." "We have to make certain that we have the faculty, that students get to see themselves reflected not only in our classified or in other staff on our campuses, we have to make certain that our students see African-American and other faculty of color in their classrooms ... it means we have to do things differently."

Acting Chancellor Dr. Daisy Gonzalez is direct and means action in managing the charge to help with Black student enrollment and retention while Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley of the California Community Colleges system, is temporarily serving as a special adviser in the U.S. Department of Education.



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