Rep. Kelly Skidmore continued her summer seminar series Monday, hosting a discussion with experts in the educational field to discuss different equity issues students face.
Skidmore is hosting a District Dialogue Summer Series after her first Session after rejoining the Legislature. After tackling women’s health care issues earlier this month, Skidmore and her panel talked about working to provide access to students who traditionally may have been left behind.
“It’s not intentional all the time. But we have to admit that some of our policies, some of our procedures, even though they appear to be race neutral, they’re not,” said Karline Prophete, who works as director of the Cross-Culture Equity Institute at Palm Beach State College.
“It’s our responsibility to know what our community needs from us and then figure out a way to get those needs met.”
Cynthia Mruczek, a lecturer and academic program associate at the University of Kansas, said barriers to access are prevalent and can be challenging for teachers to fully address.
“They can come up in all sorts of different ways,” she said. “It can be physical barriers, or they can be policy barriers.”
Mruczek argued educators would always have work to do ensuring students’ needs are fully met, but argued she and others should tackle the issue head on. Though Mruczek works at the University of Kansas, she lives in Arizona, and Mruczek relayed an example from Arizona showing one barrier to access facing students there.
“Our recent state testing was scheduled during Ramadan. Now, Ramadan is a high holiday in the Islamic tradition, and many students were fasting during that time as part of their religious practice,” Mruczek explained.
“That’s an example of an intangible, more abstract barrier that we may not be aware of if we don’t have the right people at the table.”
Also joining Monday evening’s Zoom discussion was Keith Oswald, chief of equity of wellness at the Palm Beach County School District. Skidmore asked Oswald how the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated existing equity issues facing students in the county.
“Our biggest issue that we saw right out the door was the issue of the internet and access to Wi-Fi. Fundamentally, we believe that should not just be for the most privileged, that all students should have access to the internet and to be able to participate,” Oswald said.
“We know that when a family has access to the internet, they’re going to be much more successful. They’re going to be able to apply for a job. They’re just going to be able to sustain themselves so much better.”
The panelists noted that students can face different hurdles based on race, gender, income or other factors, especially when educators aren’t conscious of closing those resource gaps.
“Seventy percent of our students are first-generation college students,” said Prophete of Palm Beach State College. “We can’t assume that people just know what to do when we haven’t given them the information.”
Skidmore is aiming to host panel discussions highlighting topics of interest to her constituents in House District 81. Skidmore won that seat last November. She previously represented parts of Palm Beach County from 2006-2010.
“Really what we’re talking about is making sure a person’s needs, at the time they need them, are being met,” Skidmore said in summarizing Monday’s meeting. “And it can be just as simple as that.”
Skidmore said the next entry in the summer discussion series would focus on the topic of workforce development.