Audio Astra: When trickle down effects become a waterfall

September 17, 2021 3:33 am

A teacher walks among the masked students sitting in a socially distanced class. Schools have been stretched thin during the pandemic. (Jon Cherry/Getty Images)

Audio Astra reviews recent audio reporting on Kansas news, including podcasts and radio stories. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

When daily newspapers shed jobs during the last few decades, education reporters took a hard hit. The layoffs left one or two reporters to cover entire metro areas, dozens of board meetings and tens of millions of dollars of government spending. Disruption of schools during the pandemic has transformed education news into breaking news, as we worry: “What is happening in our schools?”

Schools Face Staff Shortages And The Youngest Students May Be Falling Behind

Kansas City Today, Sept. 14, 2021

The first week of episodes from a new daily news podcast at KCUR showcased the talents of host Nomin Ujiyediin and a phalanx of reporters based in Kansas. The episodes leaned on journalists from the Kansas News Service and KCUR. Tuesday’s episode enlisted both squads.

Jodi Fortino of KCUR explains shortages in … well … everything at schools: food, bus drivers, teachers, substitute teachers and more. We parents receive emails seemingly every week from our children’s schools. The situations that Fortino describes are nevertheless alarming: For instance, one metro school district has told parents to find alternate plans for children to travel to school, plans that might be called upon with only hours of notice. Parents wonder how they can return to work in this atmosphere.

What Ujiyedin and Fortino describe as a “trickle down” effect is disrupting so many aspects of education. A shortage in one area creates a shortage somewhere else. What is happening right now when districts are scrambling to hire full-time teachers? They enlist some of the limited number of long-term subs. Where do they get more long-term subs? They drain their tiny pool of short-term subs. The result: districts are barely staffed and often don’t have enough substitute teachers for full-time teachers to take a field trip or professional development day.

Later in the episode, Suzanne Perez of KMUW tells the story from Wichita of teachers and parents grappling with kindergartners who did not attend school last year as they normally would have. Some parents are questioning whether enrolling this year is too risky as well, with the delta variant spreading among students. In considering whether school was safe for her son, one parent speaks for all parents when she says, “You can’t get it right so just do the best you can.”

Students Asking for Mental Health Days

Up To Date, Sept. 11, 2021

My most interesting discussion this week was with a fellow teacher at the University of Kansas. We wrestled with how high our expectations should be for our students at the journalism school as they emerge from the pandemic. When do we risk coddling them? When do they need to be pushed? How much leniency should we provide?

Of course, the balance between asking too much and not demanding enough is a central tension of parenting, along with teaching. 

“Up To Date” featured psychologist Wes Crenshaw this week with advice for all of us who are helping young people — or young people themselves. The 25 minutes are the perfect parent-child listen for your next carpool. 

The structure that Crenshaw provides is deceptively simple, but still helpful. When considering what concessions to make for your child, he suggests drawing the line between what are legitimate isolated mental health days and what are “avoidance” days. But even Crenshaw admits the line is a bit blurry when he says that separating one kind of absence from the other takes “discernment.”

Another tip from Crenshaw addresses how to address the frequency of school absences. When absences become a “habit,” we should be more alarmed, whereas Crenshaw accepts isolated incidents and suggests that parents should be receptive to these types of breaks for their children.

The broad overview here contains reasons to be alarmed, such as Crenshaw’s anecdotes about dozens of additional young patients seeking care each week at this Lawrence office. Most reassuring however is his observation that mental health treatment is markedly losing its stigma of being only for the “weak.” This is especially true for young people, who acknowledge their need for help more than ever.

Homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic

Kansas Reflector podcast, Sept. 13

Sometimes uncomfortable truths just need to be said out loud. In this week’s Kansas Reflector podcast, the honest messenger is Joseph Reitz, who helped found Family Promise of Lawrence. The organization helps people who are homeless in dozens of states. 

His truths? 

  • On the current real estate market that rewards builders for constructing huge houses rather than affordable apartments: “It’s a great business model, but a tragic social model.”
  • On the glacial pace of funds being disbursed from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program to prevent evictions: “For once the state’s history, we have a problem and the funds to solve it.”
  • On the Supreme Court striking down the eviction moratorium, allowing tenants to be evicted starting Oct. 4: “The aftereffects and the unintended consequences of the decisions that people make have not been well thought out.”

Over and over again, Reitz returns to his central argument: that homeless people are politically powerless because they are unlikely to vote and commercially powerless because they lack money to spend. That is the unfortunate and brutal truth, but a reality that should not prevent them from living in dignity.

What did we miss? Email [email protected] to let us know of a Kansas-based audio program that would be interesting to Audio Astra readers.

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Eric Thomas
Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, a nonprofit that supports student journalism throughout the state. He also teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He lives in Leawood with his wife and two children.