CUESEF 2020 Examines Pandemics Through New Perspectives

The University of Pittsburgh School of Education’s Center for Urban Education’s highly anticipated annual Summer Educator Forum (CUESEF) went virtual in July 2020.

The conference theme “Crisis Pedagogies: Communities, Education and the Public Good” explored how various communities – youth, parents/families, community members, teachers, and administrators – have been impacted by  the COVID-19 and racial pandemics.

“We are living in hard times,” says T. Elon Dancy II, the director of CUE. “This year has seen unprecedented levels of turmoil due to rising alarm over the COVID-19 pandemic, with the most vulnerable populations experiencing the hardest impact. With this year’s theme, we fostered deep thinking about (in)justice and (un)learning in the U.S. and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, more specifically.”

Co-sponsored by the Heinz Endowments and moderated by Marc Lamont Hill, an award-winning journalist and activist, the conference connected nearly 1,700 registrants each Thursday afternoon in July over five separate Zoom webinars.

Sessions covered how crises impact youth perspectives, care-giver and family experiences, health and faith, teachers and teaching, and planning for the future through leadership and policy.

All of the panels discussed the varying levels of responsiveness and support that their schools were able to provide for their students and families when the pandemic hit.

“We can’t talk about COVID-19 without talking about pre-existing conditions,” said Hill during one of the sessions. “As a nation, the pre-existing conditions of white supremacy, huge gaps in technology, and health access shape how people engage the crisis of COVID-19.”

Other dialogues throughout the conference centered around what was lost in the absence of direct instruction, arrangement of resources, relationships with law enforcement, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Youth Experiences in Schools

Cue Perry, the CUE Artist-in-Residence, designed the CUESEF 2020 featured artwork, “The Talk” that depicted children having fun and being carefree.

“Whenever I decide to have children, I dread the day my child looks up at me and we have ‘the talk;’ not ‘the birds and the bees,’ but when I have to explain to them the dangers of having Black skin,” says Perry of the inspiration for his design.

The “Teach the Teachers” youth panel centered the voices of six students at different points in their academic careers. According to Dancy, since most conversations about schooling are about youth, but rarely include them in the actual conversation, highlighting these perspectives was an important moment in the conference.

“What we think is happening and how students are experiencing what is happening are sometimes two very different things,” says Hill.

The youth panelists described what their school and academic experiences were like before the pandemic.

They discussed how some schools had security measures where students were patted down and told to take their shoes off before they even sat down in the classroom. The experience made students feel disconnected and as if their school was a site of violence and trauma that made learning nearly impossible.

“We had a lot of trouble with feeling like we mattered to teachers,” said Harmony McDonald, a Pittsburgh Public Schools graduate and spoken-word artist. “You’re young and in school and have these adults telling you that they care about you and want you to go to college and that learning matters. But then everything they do in your entire academic career shows you that they don’t really care about you at all, and you’re just a number. I think that it is really disheartening and traumatizing for a lot of poor kids and a lot of Black kids, as well. This is definitely a struggle I faced in high school.”

A New Beginning for All of Us

The youth panelists also discussed what it was like learning from home, their relationships with law enforcement, and how they believe the country is going through a “revolution” in this current moment.

“I was talking to a social scientist the other day and she was actually making a lot of sense in saying that because of everything going on in the world and in America not only with virus, but with the upcoming election, we were due for a revolution,” says McDonald. “If you look historically, we kind of had all of the ingredients for a revolution.”

Panelists in the other sessions also looked to the future with the positivity that can come out of these trying times.

Terri N. Watson, an associate professor in the Department of Leadership and Human Development at The City College of New York, served as a panelist on the final session “Planning for Black Futures: Leadership and Policy Perspectives.” She is excited for what this moment in time may bring for the future.

“This time that we are home with our families during social distancing, in many ways, has brought us together,” says Watson. “I can’t tell you how often I’m checking on neighbors, relatives, and elders in my community and how it has brought us together. We need to be in community with one another and this moment has pushed us to that. Hopefully, it will be more than a moment; it will be a movement and this new beginning can be for all of us.”

Learn More

View the full list of panelists and CUESEF 2020 sessions

Watch all of the recorded CUESEF 2020 sessions

Learn more about the School of Education’s Center for Urban Education