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Listening to an NPR piece on the anniversary of George Floyd's killing brought a flood of memories and emotions. I recalled the protests that erupted amid the Covid lockdown, grappling with the internal conflict of watching my son march-immensely proud of his values and commitment to justice, yet frightened for his health in those pre-vaccine times. The uproar that rippled through the United States and beyond was catalyzed by the harrowing video of a police officer kneeling on a dying man's neck while he desperately repeated, “I can’t breathe.” Somehow it took a video for the world to acknowledge what the Black community has endured for years. 

As an educator who has primarily worked with young males of color, Floyd’s and other senseless deaths had a profound impact on me. In the weeks following the tragedy, I came across countless webinars on race issues, focused on helping students process not only Floyd's death but the broader, disproportionate killings of Black males by police, as well as protest marches and other virtual events. These lockdown hours became a time of intense learning and sharing; I distributed these valuable resources to colleagues and friends, hoping to foster a deeper understanding and more meaningful conversations. On a whim, I started a Facebook group, E2 Equity Educators to make it easier to share and reach a broader audience. The group quickly grew, 4.5k members today, becoming a vibrant community for discussing and advocating for equity in education. I thank George Floyd for the impetus. 

While I put myself forward with the E2 Equity Educators Facebook group, I decided I needed to pull back on another project—a book I had started writing about a Boston Public School program, which primarily served students of color, and the great success of our team working with students who had essentially been viewed as too violent and dysregulated to be in mainstream education. I felt this was not the time for a white woman's voice to be prominent .However, I have recently revived it thanks to encouragement from friends and colleagues of color, my former students, as well as my own heart telling me that this is a story needing to be told. I switched my focus to the voices of my students rather than mine and have been excitedly interviewing them to share their thoughts. 

My role as an educator also evolved in response to Floyd's killing. I was asked to design and am teach a graduate course in Curry College’s newly created DEI (Diverse and Equitable Instruction) master’s degree program. I made it a point to thoroughly research and include the Black male experience throughout the syllabus. For example, when teaching about disability and neurodiversity, I highlighted the stark reality that Black boys are five times more likely to be misdiagnosed with a behavioral disability when they are actually autistic. I delved into the impacts of disparate discipline, using studies showing that Black boys are often perceived as 4.5 years older than they are, thus unfairly deemed scarier when merely horseplaying compared to their white counterparts and resulting in higher levels of suspension and expulsion. 

Beyond the classroom, I recognized the importance of not just declaring oneself anti-racist or expressing support for Black Lives Matter, but also engaging in deep self-reflection to confront and dismantle the “intimacy of our hatreds” coined by Eddie S. Claude Jr., and the structures that perpetuate racism.  

While many improvements happened because of George Floyd’s tragic killing, it’s evident that there is a racial backlash trying to undo any progress made especially with pushback against DEI efforts. A recent EdWeek article highlighted the increasing use of euphemisms for DEI, reflecting the broader societal resistance. While my grad students are receptive to adopting culturally responsive practices, they often ask “what happens if a parent complains? “, and I have no easy answer.  There were also troubling trends of book bannings and the influence of right-wing national groups infiltrating school committees, as detailed in the book "School Moms." Even in my liberal town next to Boston MA we face these divisions. Once out of lockdown, I became much more politically active in my town, getting elected to our town meeting and continuing to support other candidates and progressive initiatives.

The personal impact of George Floyd's killing is multifaceted and deeply interwoven with my professional and personal life. It has driven me to be a more intentional educator, a more engaged community member, and a more vocal advocate for systemic change. While there was significant progress made in the wake of his murder, it feels as though we are now regressing. Despite setbacks, the journey for justice and equity continues, fueled by the memory of George Floyd and countless others who have suffered unjustly. Making an impact does not compensate for his tragic death, but I hope his family finds some comfort in knowing the profound influence he has had on the world. 

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  • Writer's pictureJanet Ferone

I’ve had the honor of supporting Boston University Hubert H. Humphrey fellows, mid-career professionals from developing countries, for the past five years, making some very meaningful friendships and visiting several in their home countries. So, when I heard the news of the impending Russian invasion of Ukraine, my thoughts went to Svitlana Taran, a 2018 fellow from Kyiv. I reached out and we began messaging, including the night the bombing began, while I watched the horrors unfold on CNN.

Sveta left her 9th floor apartment, sleeping on the ground floor of an acquaintance’s home, hiding from explosions in her city. During this time, she received and offers of refuge and support from Janis Volberts of Latvia, Olga Melniciuc (Moldova), Milos Zarkovic (Montenegro,) Vlado Develski (Macedonia), Tsatsa Dambiinyam (Mongolia), and 2017 fellow Alena Vachnova (Slovakia) and 2018 Humphreys from many other countries, who remained close over the years.

As bombing intensified, I was thrilled to get a photo captioned, “Janis took me to his country, Latvia, from the Ukrainian border”. Janis explained he and the other fellows were in constant touch and knew Sveta was fleeing Kyiv with just a backpack, and her shy nature led him to believe she wouldn’t ask for help. With his family’s support, he arranged to meet Sveta at the Ukrainian-Poland border, driving 13 hours, then waiting 20 hours for her to cross the border for the 13 hour return trip to Riga, bringing along a man and child they met at the border. Sveta told a harrowing tale of an exhausting escape for three days and nights, including a 24 hour bus ride cross ing the border.

Once in Riga, Janis and wife, Paula, found and funded an apartment for Sveta. Their two children, Ernests, 7, and Anna Luize, 9, love to communicate with Sveta and created pro-Ukrainian artwork to cheer her. Paula helped Sveta with the apartment ,while Janis helped with shopping and bank account, and the family joined Sveta in a pro-Ukraine, anti-war protest in Riga.

Sveta is able to work remotely at her previous job part-time, providing analytical support for the Ukrainian government to prepare to obtain EU candidate status, her contribution to the fight for freedom. Sveta suggests contributions to the National Bank of Ukraine for humanitarian aid.

As my heart celebrated this true fellowship, I saw a Facebook memory posted by Janis of a trip he and the fellows took to Nashville during their 2018-19 fellowship year, with the caption “All for One and One for All”. He certainly epitomizes that saying by his actions, along with the numerous other fellows that offered support.

This isn’t the first example of true fellowship I’ve experienced in this program, Last year when our fellow Jawad had to leave Afghanistan due to government collapse, fellows from Pakistan,

Noor-ul-Sarwar from his cohort, who encouraged all fellows to obtain Canadian visas, and Rashid Massod Alaim from 2005-06, who helped with travel arrangements from Kabul to Islamabad with some host families financially supporting his family left behind in Afghanistan, as they plan to reunify with him in Canada.

Artwork by Ernests, 7, and Anna Luize, 9

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  • Writer's pictureJanet Ferone

As a former school administrator for over 30 years with the Boston Public Schools, primarily working with students with disabilities, my first words of advice to parents are "MANAGE EXPECTATIONS". Many parents see the schedule going around on social media which outlines a full day in 45 minute increments, including school subjects, snack, and chore time, etc. While maintaining a routine is a good thing, it doesn't make sense to try to replicate a school day to the minute and can lead to frustration, particularly if the parent is also trying to work from home. I’ve included a sampling of resources at the end of this blog, and many more are available on educator and parent websites and social media groups, but don’t set the bar too high that is leads to frustration for both parent/guardian and children.

It is important to not overlook the emotional needs of students, while trying to provide for academic needs. The news gets scarier by day, and if the parent is older or with a chronic health condition, their children may have fears that the parent can become ill or even die. Tuning in to how students are feeling and what they might not be saying is just as important as math worksheets. Introducing or expanding simple mindfulness tools with children can help reduce fear and anxiety. Adding pressure of “school as usual” to scared and upset children will do little good, and your goal should be to create a safe, comfortable home atmosphere allowing space for fears and feelings, with a lot of honest reassurance from the adults. Once we pass this crisis, students will remember how they felt, not whether they memorized their times tables. You are not alone in this, as many therapists are using teletherapy for remote services. Check with your child’s counselor or pediatrician, local mental health agency, or school district for resources.

Rather than stick to an unrealistic, confining school schedule, try to use the time creatively to teach things that often don't get taught at school and students often wonder why. For a high schooler, financial literacy skills are important and not always addressed. Use your own household bills to teach budgeting, responsible credit card use, and the ever-present tax filing that teens will soon need to do. Other great skills can include cooking, home repairs, or yard maintenance including planting seeds and watching them grow. Ordering online meal cooking services like Hello Fresh or Dinnerly can help avoid social contact at a grocery store and provide a step-by-step meal plan that kids of all ages can prepare with appropriate adult supervision. And don't discount the importance of movement, perhaps in the yard or neighborhood walk, as well as many exercise or yoga videos online. Since students will be cooped up, virtual field trips to non-local places can provide a great escape. Or international concerts for artists they normally wouldn't be exposed to! And who could resist actor Patrick Steward reading a Shakespeare-sonnet-a day ?(in resources, below!)

Since many schools cut back on arts programming, this may be a great time to expose children to online concerts and shows, virtual museum tours, as well as allowing them free creative play to make their own paintings, sculptures, multimedia presentations. Perhaps they'd like to put on a theatrical or musical show for you? Give them the space to do so, and see how they might surprise you. (Bonus: you can get your work done if you are not over-directing them!)

Have a look at free resources online that I’m sharing, but first, why not tap into your child's interests to see if there is something they have always wanted to learn about but didn't get a chance to at school. Even younger students might have a burning passion and can be adept at using online searches to find information and put it together in a report or presentation. Much like the Montessori approach, letting students take the lead on their learning can lead to much more meaningful outcomes. This could also be a good time for students to work on social justice issues that they are concerned about, such as climate change or injustices that they see around them. You can also share social justice issues meaningful to you and jointly compose letters to policy and lawmakers, create social media campaigns, networking, and resource-sharing.

If students have diagnosed learning disabilities, autism, or ADHD, the parent's job becomes even more difficult and forcing students into a rigid academic structure may lead to tears and fears about learning. Most parents or guardians know that their children struggle more with them as teachers and may not want to show their weaknesses. Students may be used to using apps for learning, so continuing that practice can be helpful. Websites related to the child’s disability can also help, but again, “manage expectations” is a key phrase.

Many students who are from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) or LGBTQA+ communities sadly may not always be represented in the teachings at their schools. Many families report switching up the curriculum provided by their schools to fully incorporate diverse histories and people. We are currently still in Women’s History Month and with Black History Month in February, there are many online resources, some listed below. It might also be a great time to teach about your family’s ethnic histories (interview a grandparent or other relatives remotely) and child can do a multimedia presentation on their heritage. If your child is not represented in the teachings at their school, starting a social justice campaign to be more diverse could also be a worthwhile activity. There are probably many injustices that students might want to address and many online guides for contacting legislators and policymakers.

Schools have made arrangements for academic work, either online or through packets of work distributed to families. Make sure to check first with the school, where teachers may be available remotely and using google classroom to offer enrichment activities. The school’s homepage on website can direct you to online learning tools. Check with your school or district if you need an electronic device, or know of families that are in need. Please remember that due to equity issues, work cannot be required nor graded, not students penalized, so it’s another reason to lighten up and offer alternate learning. Schools are also offering meal pick-up in many locations, so feel free to use those services listed on school website.

Try to make it fun! This is scary and uncharted territory for adults and children alike, so instead of repetitive worksheets, try math card games. Instead of conjugating verbs, try read-alouds in the language your child is studying. Take a deep breath and realize that a brief break in high-pressure academics will not negatively impact your child, and everyone is in the same boat! You also should be aware that due to equity issues (both access to technology and adults to assist as well as special needs students’ IEPs not being met) schools will not be able to grade or penalize students, and have been advised to only provide enrichment content, not teach any new concepts.


Some free resources:

To reduce anxiety:

Apps such as CALM, HEADSPACE, coloring apps

Free SEL (Social Emotional Learning)

A Trauma-Informed Approach to Teaching Through Coronavirus

Activities and Resources for all ages:

Khan Academy - students are familiar with this academic site as teachers use this often

Patrick Steward Reading Shakespeare

Ipad apps for students with special needs

Parenting Your Challenging Child; Resources from Dr. Ross Green

Black, Indigenous People of Color Project ,

Black Homeschooling Resources:

Indigenous Peoples Curriculum Resources

Latinx Peoples Resources

LGBTQA+ resources

Women’s History:

Free online cooking classes - for older students and a bit more upscale

Stories in Spanish

Free coloring books from museums

Math card games:

Resources from homeschoolers:

Apps that integrate with google classroom:

Educational companies offering free subscriptions

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