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Parents need more support. When families don’t have access to child care, surprise, surprise—a lot of parents can’t go to work. And the child care sector was hit hard by the pandemic; the Center for American Progress suggests that as many as 4.5 million child care seats may have been permanently lost due to program closures. As a result, families lose paychecks, food on the table, rent and mortgage payments. The economy suffers. Programs like the expanded Child Tax Credit and universal child care coverage protect and support not only families with young children, but the rest of us, too, because everyone stands to lose when parents leave the workforce in droves.


What we ask of today’s mothers specifically is unsustainable. In the words of sociologist Jess Calarco, “Other countries have social safety nets. The US has women.” Already disadvantaged in the workplace and overburdened by child care and household chores, moms had to take on new roles as remote learning coordinators and COVID safety managers—often at the expense of their careers. Between March and April of 2020, some 3.5 million mothers of school-aged children left the workforce. While many have since returned, others haven’t. And like so many of the pandemic’s pain points, these losses haven’t been experienced equitably: Black, Latinx, and Indigenous mothers, mothers with lower wage jobs, and those who are the sole earners in their families left the workforce in larger numbers than others.


Kids (and all humans!) need real-life interaction. Technology has bridged a lot of gaps over the last year-plus, but it can’t do everything. We’re only just beginning to see the true extent of the mental health toll the pandemic has taken on children. As we emerge from our “pods,” it’s a good time to consider how to step away from the screen and connect in ways that might seem so very 2019—like, in person, not on Zoom.


Even as we step away from screens, we desperately need better education technology. When schools shut down last spring, educators had to scramble to put together piecemeal virtual learning solutions involving a slew of different software programs. Juggling login information, links, and learning apps added confusion and stress to an already overwhelming situation. Moving forward, there should be no excuse for schools to not offer seamless ways to include students who need to be absent for any number of reasons throughout the year.


Everyone should have high-speed internet. Kids should never have to sit outside McDonald’s to get to their online classes. Let’s make sure it covers rural communities as efficiently as urban centers. And let’s make it free for everyone, while we’re at it.


Good teachers are worth their weight in gold. Okay, we knew this one already. But remember when your kids were home for like five minutes and you had already had enough of playing teacher? Yeah. So do we. Many educators this year displayed extraordinary creativity and resilience, and we should pay them more. The pandemic also further revealed stark inequities in our education system, when some students had access to great teachers who went above and beyond to ensure they continued learning despite school disruptions, while others disappeared from school entirely or fell far behind due to limited access to technology and weak remote learning opportunities.


We can find new ways to work. It probably shouldn't have taken a pandemic to figure this out, but sometimes we all need a little nudge, right? In this case, we’ve all seen that many people can work remotely and still be successful at their jobs. Those who need to work in person can benefit from more creative and flexible shift options that still allow them to work around their family and life obligations. And everybody—salaried, shift, gig, however you work—needs paid time off and health insurance.


Trust and community engagement need to be at the heart of our institutions. Whether we’re looking at school re-opening debates or access to vaccines, there are clear signs from within some communities—especially communities of color—that many folks don’t trust existing systems to keep them safe. Instead of waving off those concerns, school districts and healthcare systems need to invest in stronger relationship-building, active listening, and tailored strategies that address the concerns of individual communities


Nothing is promised. Who among us ever imagined that our schools could just...shut down, for a year or more? Our institutions are fragile. Our communities are vulnerable. And as we look around the world as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc, the message is loud and clear: We are only as safe as our neighbors, at home and abroad.

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