Pandemic reveals stark inequities in education

Pandemic reveals stark inequities in education

McKEESPORT, Pa. — Inequity in education has come to the forefront during the pandemic.

The McKeesport Area School District didn’t have the resources for all of its students to do virtual learning when schools shut down in the spring. They had to hand out paper packets for students because they didn’t have enough equipment for everyone and not all families in the district had access to the internet.

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“Accessibility and the inequities in education really came to the forefront at that point. Where the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ became part of the challenge of educating the children,” said Dr. Mark Holtzman, Superintendent of McKeesport Area School District.

So Holtzman reached out to the Allegheny Intermediate Unit for help in finding grant money to pay for devices. That, alongside money from the CARES Act, helped get enough funding for all the kids learning at home for the first nine weeks of the 2020-2021 school year.

About 1,000 chose to do virtual learning, leaving the district with enough space to bring back the rest of the students in the district of 2,300 into the classroom, five days a week.

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“When we don’t have students or staff around, it’s heartbreaking for us. Because that’s where our value is: interacting, mentoring, supporting,” Holtzman said.

Especially in his district, which he admits has challenges outside of school.

“When it comes to poverty, unfortunately, violence is a big part of what happens daily in our community,” Holtzman said. “But we don’t make excuses for our children, for our schools, for our staff, we’re here to give kids everything we have, what they deserve.”

And for Holtzman, it’s very personal. He played football for McKeesport High School, graduated, and has spent 16 years of his professional career in the McKeesport Area School District.

“McKeesport is a place I feel like I’m making a difference,” Holtzman said. “I feel like our kids need me, and need us as a staff, so I take pride in that.”

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