students working in class

A Conversation with BakerRipley Educators During the Pandemic

From our youngest learners to our more seasoned adult students, BakerRipley is busy creating greater equity in every classroom so every curious mind has access to resources and a path forward! But as we’ve all experienced, life was turned upside down by the pandemic. How did the pandemic change everything for you, your team, and your students?

Alejandra Barbosa-Contreras, a Digital Literacy Coordinator and former Instructor for adults: “It was spring break 2020 when I got a message from my supervisor saying ‘stop all the classes.’ I said, ‘No way. I’m not stopping my classes’ because this is an opportunity to continue with digital literacy. And we finished the term online.”

Inger Potts, Senior Early Childhood Development Coordinator for BakerRipley’s Head Start program: “For our Head Start (pre-K) teachers, we had similar pandemic issues. We had children, teachers, or parents who had tested positive or were exposed. Our children are already at a disadvantage. So we had to have some type of technology in order for our students to not fall behind.”

Elizabeth Horberg, Head Start Teacher & Instructional Coach: “During the pandemic, the teachers have to learn a different way to teach because Pre-K is very nurturing, with lots of hugging and playing together. And it was very difficult. The kids don’t know how to do that with distancing and masks. That was a big change, both for teachers and students.”

Toni Concepcion, Family Wellness Senior Coordinator: “One major challenge was addressing the apprehension around health advocacy for parents and their families. In the Head Start program, one of our goals is to guide parents to be proactive health advocates for their children – annual well-child physicals, frequent dental visits, immunizations. However, with the pandemic, many of our families were afraid to make those health visits.”

Alejandra: “There was uncertainty. Some, the breadwinners of their family, lost their job. Some (adult) students had children, and the schools were out. And if they had a computer, of course the children would have priority over the computer. So definitely some people couldn’t continue.”

This massive disruption called COVID-19 forced people in every location — from the classroom to the boardroom to the living room — to adjust to masks, social distancing, and a new “online” way of living. But as is always the case, this shift was experienced unevenly. Many Houston families and neighbors were hit much harder because of the Digital Divide.

Alejandra: “The Digital Divide was even more profound and evident because some of the students didn’t have a computer or tablet at home. The only thing they had was a cell phone. And they have to use it to learn, but also for their internet connection. So it was hectic.”

Elizabeth: “We had 2 or 3 weeks where we had to work from home. During that time, there were families who didn’t have device access. Or many families had parents that had to work, meaning those kiddos missed out. It’s been difficult.”

Claudia Londono, Digital Literacy Instructor: [Experiencing the Digital Divide] is common. And some of the students use their children’s computers — the ones they provide from the schools.”

Alejandra: “It’s not only the classes. With COVID, the WORLD switched online. And if our neighbors had access to just a few opportunities before COVID, imagine their situation now. So it’s not just the classes. It’s healthcare. It’s recovery resources. Everything they need access to is online.”

But BakerRipley and our neighbors are resilient, resourceful, and unwilling to give in. Through the help of BakerRipley partners and supporters like you, as well as the amazing corporate partners like Verizon who stood with us to make a difference, not only did our local learners survive the pandemic, they made amazing educational gains!

Claudia: “Verizon donated Chromebooks. The cool thing we did at the beginning of this program was ask the students to work to earn a computer. So they had to learn and follow the steps, come to class, in order to have access. And they did it!”

Inger: “We used a digital platform that meets our educational requirements, but also supported the parents as teachers. It gave them simple activities to work with their children at home using their cell phone. And the numbers were really amazing at the level of engagement .. even throughout the summer. Usually we’re closed through the summer. Once I looked at the numbers and saw that the engagement numbers actually increased, I was pleasantly surprised.”

Alejandra: “The pandemic was hard, but they were resilient. And they wanted to finish.”

Inger: “I think that was what we were doing through this COVID situation. We all had to do what it takes to continue to provide services for our parents, meet the needs for our students, and parents were willing. They just needed the tools.”

You — like every BakerRipley volunteer, employee, and neighbor — are the reason Houston will thrive as we move into another school year. You are among passionate, loving, community-minded people who understand we will only continue growing if we support and encourage every learner, every family member, and every neighbor. Together, nothing can get in our way. We’re here for our neighbors, and we have so much to look forward to!

Alejandra: “I’m looking forward to growing the classes, but also to opening classes to in-person as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Toni: “Although we’re entering in 2nd year with the pandemic, I and the health team are better prepared in providing health and safety in our schools.

Inger: “Our children just returned this week. The number one priority is obviously safety, and that children are ready for their next level of learning, but also that their parents feel empowered. We’re here to help you with all your needs, whether that’s a GED class or help with utilities or making connections getting you internet access. And I think that makes us unique.”

Claudia: “At the end of each term, I talk to my students. I ask them how they benefited. They always have amazing stories. It’s so rewarding, that feeling of changing a life.”

Inger: “We’re praying that we’re making a lasting impact on families. And we’ve seen it, so we know it’s true. It helps you go a little further, do a little more. It’s a passion from the heart, that we’re impacting families.”

Claudia: “I’m expecting to change more lives. When you change a life, you’re not just changing the life of one person, but the whole family.”