How Was School During COVID? Urban Education Researchers Asked New York City Parents

Members of the Urban Education Research Collective. Top row (left to right): José Luis Jiménez, Wendy Luttrell, Mieasia Edwards, and William Salomon Orellana. Bottom row (left to right): Nga Than, David Rosas, Kelly Brady, and Whitney Hollins.

In the spring of 2020, soon after the coronavirus pandemic forced New York City to shut down in-person instruction in its public schools, Professor Wendy Luttrell (Urban Education, Psychology, Sociology) gathered a team of students and alumni from the doctoral programs in Urban Education and Sociology to assess the impact on students and education. 

The eight researchers called themselves the Urban Education Research Collective. One of the members, doctoral student William Salomon Orellana (Urban Education) said that the group quickly expanded the survey to acknowledge, “that COVID was not the only pandemic that was going on. We knew that the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, that racial injustice was also a pandemic and we felt that we needed to explore both.”

Using a new interactive survey tool,, the collective began with parents, compiling responses and narratives about how these two issues were affecting their children and their education. The resulting report, COVID-19 & Racial Justice in Urban Education: NYC Parents Speak Out, illuminates parents’ insights, critiques, and recommendations. It has attracted national media attention, highlighting three of its major takeaways: “more family and community engagement; greater attention to students’ social-emotional and mental health needs; and a demand for teaching about systemic racism and racial justice, to create a more equitable future.”

Orellana, like the other collective members, brought multiple perspectives to the research. He is a high school history and special education teacher in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood and is the parent of three school-aged children. He described the collective members as “a group of researchers, parents, teachers, school leaders, and activists who really wanted to figure out what's happening with our students in New York City, how they're learning, and how this is impacting them.” 

Orellana saw how the students in his school, many of whom are recent immigrants from South America, struggled to adjust to Zoom and Google Classroom. “I had about 50% of my students logging in to learn, and that didn't change when schools opened,” he said. “There's no surprise that a lot has to do with the digital divide. 

At home, there were challenges too. “As a parent, I saw the stress it caused, not only navigating our children to remote learning, but also with mass civil unrest,” he said. “The racial justice component was not being addressed in their schools.” 

He hopes the New York City mayor and schools chancellor will use the report to reform educational policy for the coming year to address students’ mental health and overall well-being. “We have a lot of data and information we need to move through and parse out, but that was the impetus: How do we move educational policy in the city, especially if we're going to have a new mayor?” he said.

This summer, the collective is reaching out to public school students, whom Orellana called the ultimate stakeholders. “We’re hoping in the next few months to survey and work with young people in schools, to get their direct input on how they dealt with everything. What were their wonderings, their hopes and desires, and tensions and anxieties? We would like to learn from them directly.”

The Urban Education Research Collective

The members of the Urban Education Research Collective are Urban Education Ph.D. candidates Kelly Brady (Urban Education), Mieasia Edwards, José Luis Jiménez, William Salamone Orellana, and David Rosas; Sociology Ph.D. candidate Nga Than; alumna Whitney Hollins (Ph.D. ’19, Urban Education); and Professor Wendy Luttrell

Their first report, COVID-19 & Racial Justice in Urban Education: NYC Parents Speak Out, is available online. 

Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing

Submitted on: JUL 22, 2021

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