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Our View: Students learning from those with valuable firsthand experience lost amid coronavirus pandemic | COMMENTARY

When the subject comes up about the importance of students attending school in person, oft-cited arguments include face-to-face instruction and the chance for kids to come out of isolation and interact with those their own age.

Another important facet of in-person education is the guests who come to speak, make presentations and participate in demonstrations to classes or entire schools during assemblies, giving students the benefit of those with first-hand knowledge and experiences they wouldn’t otherwise get. Some of that can be partially replicated via Zoom, such as the recent appearance by astronaut Kent Rominger at Winfield Elementary, but it’s not the same as a real-life interaction. And those have been absent from schools for nearly a year now thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, costing kids a chance to meet and benefit from those in the workforce on career days or those who’ve served our country on Veterans Day.

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This month, while Carroll County Public Schools has given students some opportunities to learn about prominent African Americans and their contributions to our country as part of Black History Month, again, it’s not the same as having an individual or group come in, answer questions, find various ways to teach about culture, expose a student population that’s overwhelming white — and just 4% Black — to ideas and people and, of course, history they might not otherwise be exposed to.

We’re not sure enough of that was going on before the pandemic, but we know it’s not happening now. And that’s a tremendous loss. Not because it’s politically correct to teach about Black history. Not because it’s built into curriculum. But because issues of race continue to be monumentally important to our nation — as we have seen over and over, in ways ranging from tragic to uplifting, since last spring — and because students are at the ideal age to be receptive to ideas.

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We spoke to trailblazing Union Bridge Mayor Perry Jones — incidentally, one of the first Carroll countians that schools should invite to speak at any time of year once it is safe for guests to return — about racial justice, recently. Clearly, he doesn’t endorse some of what has gone on throughout the country since Minnesotan George Floyd’s in-custody death last May sparked widespread protests. “Martin Luther King would probably be a little disappointed with some of the riots and the killings we’ve had,” Jones told us.

But he also talked about the importance of teaching, of making sure people — particularly kids — are aware of who and what came before them.

The businessman, former county commissioner and current president of the Maryland Municipal League, who is among the most prominent African American politicians in Carroll County’s history, told us how how critical he views the role of education, of looking back, in helping to avoid a repeat of some of what happened in 2020 and move forward.

“I think it’s very important that generations today get to know more about the African American community and what they went through growing up back in the early 1900s and during the days of slavery,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of things the younger people don’t understand. I think if that was taught more in schools and they had more understanding, some of the problems we have today wouldn’t be happening.”

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We couldn’t agree more and reiterate that bringing in those with noteworthy experiences and backgrounds — from retired astronauts to war veterans to prominent African Americans — to meet and teach students is an important part of education.

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