Alumni in Action: Educator Coral Zayas ’09 on the challenges exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic

A fifth grade teacher at T.A. Brown Elementary School in Austin, Texas, Zayas reflects on the lessons learned and steps to take as we reimagine education during a crisis.

Like many teachers across the country, Coral Zayas ’09 will finish the school year teaching remotely due to COVID-19, which means she will likely not see her students again. We asked her to share her thoughts about the impact of the pandemic on her community and beyond.

First impressions

“This crisis has been an eye-opening experience. I watched vast differences between school district responses during this crisis, the digital divide and basic needs of our families being some of the most obvious differences. We are on our second month of distance learning, but fewer than 10 of my students have access to a computer and internet, so only 20 percent of my students can actually access my lessons.”

Lessons learned

“My role has always been multifaceted, but right now my hours are spent with constant parent phone calls trying to meet our families’ basic needs, Zoom meetings, training other teachers, designing digital instruction and more. I am grateful for my background in education technology, but I know the transition to digital learning for most of my colleagues has been overwhelming. There have been many lessons learned, the most critical being systems for communication. However, it is clear that there are no systems in place for a crisis of this magnitude in education locally, statewide or at the federal level.”

Looking ahead

“I know educators will face familiar and new problems as we begin a new year. Teachers will be up for the challenge, but they will need support to make it happen. My hope is that this crisis is an opportunity to focus on equity, innovation and sustainable change. Our most vulnerable students are still being left behind. This has to change. I think this is an opportunity for education to reevaluate its systems and focus on systems centered around social justice. This is our chance to make waves and positive change for all students and their families.”

About this series: The Elon Alumni in Action series explores the stories of university graduates who are doing important and uplifting work as the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic.