NJYD (New Jersey Young Democrats’) host webinar ” How to safely navigate in-person return to school” featuring the Gem Project

NJYD (New Jersey Young Democrats’) host webinar ” How to safely navigate in-person return to school” featuring the Gem Project

The NJYD (New Jersey Young Democrats) hosts a webinar entitled ” How to safely navigate in-person return to school.” Featured in this webinar is none other than The Gem Project. Representatives from The Gem Project include Amanda Ebokosia, CEO and Founder and Sharon Nwadiozor, Gem Project Fellow and Rutgers New-Brunswick student. Both Amanda and Sharon are panelists in the roundtable discussion alongside Alvert Hernandez, Assistant Director of Residence Life at Ursinus College, and Divon Pender, South Plainfield Board of Education Candidate. Special remarks by Secretary of Higher Education Brian Bridges and is moderated by NJYD Black Caucus Chair Brittany S. Hale and NJYD College Caucus Chair Danielle M. Jones. This webinar focuses on outlining tips on how to safely navigate in-person learning within the pandemic as students return to school. Perspectives from college students, CEO’s, elected officials, administrators, and educators weigh in their points of views on the subject.

As many know, this pandemic has been very challenging on everyone from their everyday lifestyle changes from in-person to virtual. Changes from traveling to work to walking in the hallways to get ready for class or talking to one’s friends. These changes and more have made many of us question our everyday social interactions and wellness as we continue to live in this pandemic. Students of all ages, specifically, middle school to college as well as their parents have been pondering about what the next semester will bring when it comes to virtual and in-person learning. It doesn’t take much to notice how impactful COVID-19 has been on students and their overall health accompanied by the everyday stresses of just being safe from this virus. We can flip the channels and constantly be bombarded by the outpour of statistics and news coverage on the headlines of virtual and in-person learning within the pandemic. Mental health has become an all high discussion for many students as they share growing concerns about their fears surrounding the virus but also graduating, their grades, and social interactions. One of the ways students have had to adapt during this pandemic is they way they learn and study. Every student isn’t built the same way when it comes to learning as we all have preferred ways we prefer to learn from hands on to audio and visual. With their being a severe life threatening illness that continues to make life and ways of living all the more interesting yet challenging in some cases. When we think of students of color (minority groups)  coupled with this pandemic over the past year, they have witnessed and experienced a lot. We observed the racism and social injustice regarding the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Asian racial discrimination (anti-Asian ) during the pandemic, these students have been truly mentally, emotionally, and physically weary. The  general consensus many feel is that this pandemic continues to shed light on awareness of important topics such as racism, self-care, health, and youth empowerment. Youth empowerment? We saw many young people involved in their communities addressing social injustice and marching about how their black lives matter. The same message goes for important decision making when it comes to young people doing best in-person or virtual. This just like what we’ve seen with protests can involve young people and needs to include them. They are the future and need a seat at the table to know what is best for young people because they can speak on their issues and feelings while aligning it with their firsthand experiences.

According to 100+ eLearning Statistics 2021 – Facts and Stats (thinkimpact.com) “the use of remote management apps for academic purposes has increased by 87% and the use of collaboration apps such as Google Drive increased by 141%. ” This and other supporting statistics goes to show how the use of in-person and virtual learning plays a key role in shaping the learning and education environment for students. There is no such thing as a one box fits all approach as youth voice and empowerment plays an important yet relevant part here in these discussions. Students especially those of Middle School and up have a right to speak their mind in addressing how the pandemic has made them feel when it comes to their education because ultimately it is their education and their experience. Many students have had to shift and adapt their preconceived ways of operating as students and adjust to these new changes in wearing masks everyday in school. It is organizations like The Gem Project that youth and student empowerment is possible on such social issues such as this. Young people learning how to navigate in-person learning is a round table discussion needed for open dialogue. Students going back to school in-person after being quarantined and around the same people for so long and then having to go back to school is almost like putting an animal that was in captivity or in an enclosed area back in its natural environment. Not so easy. They are having to relearn certain things and just to adjust to some form of “normal” before the pandemic. Virtual and in-person learning is not a one way conversation as everyone has different thoughts about it especially those going to school and experiencing it, young students. Amanda Ebokosia mentions,  “The past 18+ months has been marked with a lot of change for our students—- especially our high school and college students. How we handle the next several weeks will be critical to the support and engagement of all of our learning communities. Why some may be excited to return back to in-person, we cannot ignore the waves of anxiety, loss, and other internal and often invisible pressures our youth are facing.” Many would agree with her in that as we continue to live in this pandemic and find our ways that stress for youth is a real issue and needs real attention and solutions that they themselves can help identify. Sharon Nwadiozor, sophomore majoring in Criminal Justice with a double minor in Education and Sociology 

Like many other schools and organizations coping with the pandemic in discovering new ways to learn, The Gem Project continues to put their youth first and grants them opportunities to devise effective strategies to better opportunities for young people. If you or you know of anyone who’s a student and wants to explore virtual learning where they can play a pivotal part in youth empowerment, visit The Gem Project, Inc. – We Captivate To Educate and become a fellow today.

Sierra Cole is a communications and public relations professional. In 2021 she joined The Gem Project as an inaugural Story Corps Fellow, capturing the stories and work of our youth organizers.

“We champion on time graduation through peer mentoring, youth organizing, employment,  and service-learning initiatives, with a social justice approach.”