Advocating for Safer Schools

By Andrew Myers

Assistant professor Annette Anderson has been named deputy director of the Center for Safe and Healthy Schools, an interdisciplinary effort within the Johns Hopkins School of Education. Anderson is a familiar face in the School of Education, but has risen in profile during the recent pandemic with numerous appearances in local and national news media calling for additional attention on the needs of underserved and at-risk students during the unprecedented period of school closures.

“This is an equity issue. Many students were already challenged by a lack of resources and poor performing schools, but with the shutdown, new stresses have been added that make the job of shepherding them to graduation all the more difficult,” Anderson says. “We owe them more. We owe them better.”

In her role at the Center for Safe and Healthy Schools, Anderson will oversee implementation of the Center’s new Safe and Healthy Schools Certification Program, a series of short continuing education courses for school leaders, administrators, and teachers focused on the needs of these students and on empowering educators to create and support safe and healthy learning environments. The courses will be offered online in partnership with the education company Klassroom.

Her number one priority in the short term, Anderson says, is to close the digital divide that currently makes rigorous and consistent instruction for students lacking necessary digital devices and high-speed broadband connections much more challenging.

“We need a one-to-one technology policy in every district,” Anderson says. “One student, one device with internet access included.”

Next, districts must take aim at the psychological and emotional toll that the pandemic and school closures are taking on instructional staff, who had to quickly adapt to new ways of teaching in the spring of 2020 and now must grapple with health and safety concerns about returning to school in the fall with the COVID-19 virus still active and no vaccine in sight.

“We know the mindset of teachers. They are educators; they will educate. That’s what they do. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have concerns about how to return to the classroom safely,” Anderson notes. Districts can help teachers cope by helping instructional staff learn to teach in new ways and with proper planning on how to successfully deliver content.

“If one idea doesn’t work, now’s the time to try another,” Anderson says.

The good news, she says, is that that planning is underway. School leaders are weighing various return-to-class models, including additional health screenings, social distancing policies, staggered scheduling, new online teaching methods and hybrid models that combine the best aspects of each approach to get students and teachers back on a more normal, more familiar path to learning.

“So much is going on across the county. It gives me hope,” Anderson says of proposed changes to current instructional methods. “This is something we needed to do long time ago. The pandemic has just forced our hand, but in a good way. Now, it’s time to get it done.”