AERA Announces Recipients of ERSP Awards Focused on Dual Pandemics of COVID-19 and Systemic Racism
AERA Announces Recipients of ERSP Awards Focused on Dual Pandemics of COVID-19 and Systemic Racism

AERA has announced the recipients of an AERA Education Research Service Projects (ERSP) special call for projects focusing on the COVID-19 and systemic racism pandemics. This rapid-response cycle of ERSP, announced in late June, is part of AERA’s efforts to address the impact of the dual pandemics on education and learning through research service, in the United States and globally. Since its inception in 2012, the AERA ERSP initiative has sought to support pro bono service and promote the value of such work widely in the education research profession. 

“During these very challenging times for school leaders, educators, and others serving the community, we are pleased to announce 13 research service awards that will enable researchers to leverage their knowledge to help those at the local level in confronting the grave effects of these pandemics,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine. 

The response to the call was substantial, with over 120 high-quality proposals received. The ERSP selection committee, a subcommittee of AERA Council, selected 13 projects which focus on a diverse range of issues, from adolescent well-being during virtual learning to the retention of teacher program candidates of color. 

Awardees receive up to $5,000 to defray direct project costs so that they can volunteer their expertise to educational organizations, institutions, and other community groups to address a need related to one or both pandemics.

The selected projects include the following

Pushing Through the Pandemic: Discovering Successful School Support Systems for Newcomer High Schoolers

Principal Investigator(s): Parastoo Massoumi (Harvard Graduate School of Education)

Educational Entity: Revere High School


COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted the academic and social experiences of newcomer students, newly arrived immigrant English learners, exacerbating the existing educational barriers they faced before the pandemic. Newcomers need high quality and culturally responsive instruction to enrich their academic, literacy, and language development. They also need access to meaningful post-secondary planning support and resources to increase their graduation rates and matriculation to higher education. As schools resort to remote or hybrid learning environments during the pandemic, they will need to critically examine whether the support they provide newcomers is effective. The proposed mixed-methods study will explore how one high school in Massachusetts, with growing numbers of immigrant English learners, responds to the academic, language, literacy, and post-secondary planning needs of their newcomers during fall 2020. Findings from previous research conducted through a Research Practice Partnership (RPP) with the same high school three months into the pandemic, informed the school's fall strategic plan for newcomers. This study aims to evaluate the effectiveness and strength of the school's proposed revisions to curriculum, instruction, and post-secondary preparation, in meeting the needs of newcomers as they navigate school during COVID-19. This project will use the following research methods: thirty-five interviews with newcomers and fifteen with teachers and staff members, observations of virtual classrooms, and survey data. Findings from this study will 1) directly benefit the school in enhancing their goals to promote the success of their newcomer population and 2) address the urgent need to support newcomers during a global crisis, by generally rethinking support systems, teaching and learning, and post-secondary preparation for newcomers.



Adolescent Well-Being and School Diversity: A Needs-Based Partnership Examining Virtual Learning and Interventions in Light of COVID-19 and Systemic Racism

Principal Investigator(s): Jacqueline Cerda-Smith (North Carolina State University), Kelly Lynn  Mulvey (North Carolina State University), Paula Yust (Duke University), Steven Asher (Duke University), and Molly Weeks (Duke University)


This proposal is the continuation of an established research-practice partnership between the leadership at our school partner and researchers at Duke University and North Carolina State University. Our overall partnership goals are to support adolescents' social-emotional well-being and improve school climate for diversity. In conjunction with pre-COVID data collected at the school in February 2020, this proposal includes three additional rounds of data collection via two school-wide surveys and daily diary assessments. These studies will support our goals by examining the impact of COVID-19 and the effectiveness of equity-based interventions in virtual environments on social-emotional outcomes and the school climate for diversity. The fall school-wide survey includes measures focused on students' sense of belonging, loneliness, friendship, stress, critical consciousness, and school climate with the goal of identifying changes to student experiences due to COVID-19 and a continued emphasis on systemic racism in the United States. In coordination with the school's "One School, One Book" initiative, a random sample of students will be selected to participate in a daily diary assessment aimed at tracking frequent fluctuations in students' perceptions of belonging, stress, and social support. Finally, the spring school-wide survey will repeat fall survey measures, allowing researchers to compare students' social-emotional well-being and perceptions of school climate throughout the school year. All results will be shared with our school partner's leadership, faculty members, and students to help them gain an understanding of the current needs of the diverse student body in the face of dual pandemics. Our school partner will use the results to impact practices and policies aimed at improving student engagement, social-emotional health, and school norms for inclusion. The findings from this study will also contribute to the research literature on adolescent social relationships and well-being.

Education and Inequality in a Time of Uncertainty: Experiences of Teachers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Principal Investigator(s): Elisheva Cohen (Indiana University) and Laura Willemsen (Concordia University, St. Paul)

Educational Entity: Midwest Public School District


The dual crises of COVID-19 and systemic racism have jolted Midwest Public School District (MPSD), a small public school district outside of a midwestern metropolitan area. This spring, as the district was providing distance learning, the death of George Floyd and subsequent civil unrest compounded the sense of emergency. Our pilot study of teachers' experiences at that time revealed MPSD teachers struggling to meet students' and families' rapidly increasing needs related to COVID-19 while simultaneously responding to the crisis of systemic racism. Teachers occasionally struggled with limited direction and support in these efforts, resulting in frustration and declining morale. In this ESRP, we will conduct qualitative longitudinal research (QLR) with elementary level teachers in MPSD to better understand their experiences of teaching during the pandemic as well as reckoning with systemic racism, and use these findings to assist leaders in shaping their responses, supports and messaging.  More specifically, we will create a series of video webinars, attend monthly meetings to share our findings, implications and recommendations, and conduct workshops over the course of the 2020-2021 school year. 

Leveraging Our Virtual Village: Expanding Academic Supports in a Historically Black Community

Principal Investigator(s): Daniella Ann Cook (University of South Carolina)

Educational Entity: Greater Waverly Foundation


Historically, Black communities created supports for the educational needs of children. Their vision for education was expansive beyond schooling with a focus on equipping youngsters to positively impact and contribute as community members. By the early twentieth century, the Waverly community, considered the first suburb of Columbia, was the hub of a “self-contained, self-sustaining” diverse Black community. Prior to COVID-19, the Greater Waverly Foundation (GWF) worked with and in the historic Waverly community.Growing out of the community outreach work of First Nazareth Baptist Church that included a food pantry, soup kitchen and clothing distribution, a community-based non-profit, the Greater Waverly Foundation was established in 2007 to serve the broader community. In 2019, the Greater Waverly Foundation Village Initiative Homework and Tutoring Center was organized and began offering one-on-one tutoring to elementary, middle and high school students. Due to the pandemic, the shift to virtual schooling required programmatic changes for the Homework and Tutoring Center. Transitioning from a face to face driven program into a virtual one requires a systematic needs assessment. Academically supporting kids in the Greater Waverly community must begin with understanding the specific wants and needs of the students, parents,  caregivers, and larger community.



She Can't Breathe: Black Girls in the Intersection of #SayHerName and COVID-19

Principal Investigator(s): Jamelia Harris (University of California, Los Angeles) and Angel Miles Nash (Chapman University)

Educational Entity: Antelope Valley High School's African American Female Initiative


She Can’t Breathe is a student-centered initiative that provides much-needed Critical Conversation Space (CCS) programming for Black girls and resultant professional development for educators in Los Angeles County, California. As Black girls navigate the intersection of the heightened risks of contracting COVID-19, systemic racism-induced civil unrest, and complications of compromised access to educational support for their academic success and social-emotional well-being, their educators acknowledge the need to help students. Responsively developed and implemented by two Black women researchers, She Can’t Breathepresents Antelope Valley High School’s African American Female Initiative participants with the opportunity to engage in bi-weekly CCS that emboldens students’ narrative expressions. Rooted in the intersectional leadership framework (Miles Nash & Peters, 2020), the researchers, who specialize in centering Black girls’ educational experiences, will interview AVHS teachers and administrators to examine how they approach supporting Black girls. The operationalization of this consistent identity-focused ERSP engages Black girls’ experiences in a way that privileges their voices and provides insight into the ways their educators can responsively improve school environments. The researchers will produce professional development and policy recommendations for the school and local district that will have material impact on Black girls and their educators’ commitment to students’ success.




Successes and Challenges with Anti-Racist Community Building in Online Environments

Principal Investigator(s): Shea Kerkhoff (University of Missouri–St. Louis), Jennifer Bumble (University of Missouri–St. Louis), Katherine O’Daniels (University of Missouri–St. Louis), Fatemeh H. Mardi (University of Missouri–St. Louis), and Martille Elias (University of Missouri–St. Louis)

Educational Entity: K–12 teachers in the St. Louis region 


COVID-19 has disrupted education as usual. Our region of St. Louis is continuing to see cases increase daily, especially amongst historically marginalized communities. As a response, education leaders have called for remote learning for K-12 schools. However, most K-12 teachers have not been trained in how to teach online. Researchers agree that physical classroom learning cannot simply be copied into online spaces. Online teaching requires innovative and unique methods. Of particular concern in K-12 spaces is building community online. This study utilizes quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate building community in online learning with K-12 students and teachers. Our two main research question are: What successes and challenges do teachers report when enacting antiracist community building with K-12 students in online environments? and How does participation in an online professional learning community that cuts across the racial divide in St. Louis impact teachers? Secondary questions include: How does the digital divide in St. Louis impact teachers' ability to build community during remote learning? What digital strategies and platforms do K-12 teachers find helpful in building community? How do strategies and platforms differ for different communities (i.e., low broadband access; historically marginalized communities)? 

Participants include up to 50 K-12 teachers from diverse schools in St. Louis who participate in a virtual professional learning series and learning circle discussions. The professional learning series and circles will focus on building community during online learning in two ways: first for teachers to build a professional support network and second to build community with their students. Data sources include Online Teaching Self-Efficacy Scale before and after completion of the study. Qualitative data includes recordings of professional learning series and circles, participant-generated artifacts, and focus group discussions.

Beyond Music: Exploring the Experiences of Latino Students and Parents in a Nonprofit Arts Organization During COVID-19

Principal Investigator(s): Andrea Lopez-Salazar (Teachers College, Columbia University)

Educational Entity: INTEMPO


During the coronavirus pandemic, nonprofit arts organizations are playing a pivotal role in continuing to foster children’s artistic development, meeting families’ basic living needs, and serving as a trusted source of information. INTEMPO is an award-winning Connecticut-based arts and youth development organization founded to make music education accessible, relevant, and inclusive to low-income, first-generation children. INTEMPO’s Music School, the organization’s longest-running program, will continue remote small-group instrumental and choral music lessons in the 2020-21 school year. To date, INTEMPO has responded to the pandemic by donating masks, providing food and rent support, and distributing books and computers to its predominantly Latino families. To better understand the immediate and long-term academic, social, and economic experiences and needs of INTEMPO families, researchers from Teachers College, Columbia University will answer the following questions: (1) What are the experiences of INTEMPO’s Music School families during the pandemic? (2) What are their perceptions of INTEMPO’s role and support? (3) What role does music education play in a student’s life amid a pandemic? Researchers will gather qualitative data via six strategic focus groups with students and parents/guardians. The project will produce a blog, a report, and a presentation to nonprofit leaders in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

"We Didn't Really Know What We Could Do": Supporting Youth's Attempts to Raise Awareness of the Black Lives Matter Movement During COVID-19

Principal Investigator(s): Joanne Marciano (Michigan State University)

Educational Entity: Edgewood Village 


As youth across the United States demand racial justice and organize protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the culturally diverse high school students we collaborate with in a community-based Youth Participatory Action Research initiative in a subsidized housing community want to contribute their voices to these urgent calls for change. Yet social distancing necessitated by COVID-19 has restricted students' opportunities to take action. This project supports youth's desire to increase awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement in their community at a time of continued social distancing by assisting youth in designing and facilitating an anti-racist children's and young adult literature reading group and community-wide literacy projects. Two research questions guide our work: 1) What literacy practices do youth participants privilege as they design and facilitate the reading group and literacy projects to raise awareness about the Black Lives Matter movement?; and 2) What recommendations do youth have for educators seeking to increase awareness about the Black Lives Matter movement and address racism during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond? This project supports the partnering entity’s efforts by engaging students in culturally responsive-sustaining out-of-school programming and developing an anti-racist literacy curriculum that positions youth as agents of change.

Nurturing New Forms of Relationality across Schools, Families, and Communities through Family and Land-based Teacher Education in Thailand

Principal Investigator(s): Meixi (University of Minnesota) and Sukanda Kongkaew (Pibulsongkram Rajabhat University)

Educational Entity: Pibulsongkram Rajabhat University English Teacher Education program, Saphan Ti Sam school, and Sahasatsuksa school 


This proposal advances a model of family and land-based teacher education that nurtures critical relationality across home and school in two Indigenous and working-class communities in Thailand. COVID-19 has exposed long-standing health, social, racial, and educational inequities for Black, Indigenous, and non-dominant communities globally (Love, 2020; van Dorn et al., 2020). Between school closures and experiments to re-open schools, educators are now directly dependent on these very families to support their teaching. We ask: how can we support teachers in re-imagining the stories and places of teaching and learning across home and school? In collaboration with Pibulsongkram Rajabhat University English Teacher Education program, Saphan Ti Sam, a public primary school, and Sahasatsuksa, an urban Indigenous school, we co-design a family and land-based teacher education program to help teachers build on young people's vibrant family-based systems of knowing, and support their coordination of learning across schools, families, and communities. 

Together, we employ a mix of cognitive ethnographies (Gutiérrez & Vossoughi, 2010), walking and storying homeland villages (Marin & Bang, 2018), and intergenerational curricular design. We believe nurturing such new forms of relationality within teacher education is fundamental to building intellectually rich learning and collective thriving for a healthier.

Equity from the Start: Latino/a/x Families’ Experiences with Tele-Education and Telehealth due to COVID-19

Principal Investigator(s): Laurie Ross (Clark University) and Jie Park (Clark University)

Educational Entity: Together for Kids Coalition


This project centers on Latino/a/x families' experiences with telehealth and tele-education for their young children (ages 0-5) in a high-poverty neighborhood in Worcester, Massachusetts. With COVID-19, home visiting programs for young children and their caregivers have shifted to telehealth and tele-education. Yet organizations and providers are unsure of how families are experiencing telehealth and/or tele-education, leading them to make decisions that are not informed by data or responsive to families' strengths.

The project is informed by critical and sociohistorical frameworks, and a model of research-practice partnerships. With the Together for Kids Coalition (TFKC), a cross-sector coalition with 50+ member organizations, Park and Ross will design and facilitate focus group conversations with 30 Latino/a/x caregivers who have participated in telehealth and/or tele-education. Focus group questions will target not only barriers to telehealth and tele-education, but also families' strategies for leveraging telehealth and/or tele-education. In addition to generating knowledge about telehealth and tele-education for Latino/a/x families with young children, from the perspective of the families themselves, the intended project will support TFKC in developing practice- and policy guidelines for telehealth and tele-education, which will be disseminated to its 50+ partner organizations and agencies.

Retaining Early Childhood Teachers of Color and Bilingual Teachers in Teacher Preparation Programs During COVID-19

Principal Investigator(s): Kristabel Stark (Boston University)

Educational Entity: Urban College of Boston


While many pre-service teachers need increased support as a result of COVID 19, emerging research shows that COVID 19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color (Laurencin & McClinton, 2020) and therefore may be placing pre-service teachers of color at particular risk of attrition from their programs. The goal of this project is to support the retention of early childhood pre-service teachers of color and bilingual teachers at a small private, non-profit community college by 1) developing and implementing a survey and series of focus groups to identify barriers presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing systemic racism, in order to 2) pilot a responsive, multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) to address these barriers via a centralized, virtual referral system. This project will be accomplished collaboratively through the partnership of students, faculty, and administrators at Urban College of Boston (UCB). In addition to supporting data collection and analysis, this grant will also fund three student research assistant (RA) positions for bilingual students of color who are pursuing a career in early childhood education. These RA positions, in addition to the focus groups and surveys, will amplify the voices of the ECE students in our community, destabilizing inequitable power hierarchies in education and promoting collaborative knowledge acquisition and analysis. Overall, this project will serve as a model of how institutions of higher education can use data collection and MTSS to retain pre service teachers of color and bilingual teachers during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, despite ongoing systemic racism.

Black Youth as Educational Policy Analysts in Contexts of Midwestern Segregation: Youth Participatory Action Research towards Antiracism in Education

Principal Investigator(s): Crissa Stephens (Georgetown University) and David L. Hernández-Saca (University of Northern Iowa)

Educational Entity: Waterloo Schools and Jesse Cosby Community Center


Black students in the Midwest town of Waterloo, Iowa find themselves at the heart of the dual pandemics as they experience one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in the country due to a deeply embedded system of systemic racism which has simultaneously linked their family's economic livelihoods to the local meat packing industry and erased their lived experiences from schooling. Waterloo Community Schools and the Jesse Cosby Neighborhood Center, a community organization serving economically marginalized youth, have identified a need to gather student voice to inform the district's Equity Plan towards antiracism in education policy. This project links educational researchers with Black youth co-researchers at the Jesse Cosby Center to facilitate a Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) Project whose goal is to center the knowledge of the students most impacted by intersecting structures of systemic racism in the community and education system to place their goals and insights at the heart of policy change. Through the project, Black youth co-researchers in middle and high school whose parents are essential workers during COVID-19 will: a) develop understanding of research design to undertake data collection to gather student voice on systemic racism in the school system; b) identify the most impactful practices and policies to target for change; c) present their findings at the district level with policy recommendations for the district's Equity Plan; d) and co-create an equity audit to be used by teachers and administrators to address policy implementation and evaluate progress. This project addresses systemic racism during, and despite, COVID-19 by centering Black youth knowledge as essential to inform strategic, antiracist policy planning in schools.

Racial Divide: Equal Access to Education in a Rural School District During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Principal Investigator(s): Wei-Ling Sun (University of Texas at El Paso) and Brenda Rubio (New Mexico State University)

Educational Entity: Borderland Independent School District


This research aims to understand the implementation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES Act) in a k-12 public school district, the wellbeing of the students, and the issues of inequality in education during the COVID-19 pandemic in the El Paso County, TX. Using sensemaking theory and critical race theory through culturally responsive leadership framework, we seek to understand how school principals utilize the CARES Act resources to address unequal educational opportunities in a suburb school district that serves a predominantly Latina/o student population. We also aim to uncover what other actions school leaders take to support the effort of closing digital and educational gaps for these students who live in a border community dealing with the particular challenges that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. We use QUAN-QUAL sequential mixed methods, including GIS COVID-19 geospatial data, interviews, and focus group data via virtual meetings to identify themes and school leaders' self-evaluation of the strengths and limitations of the CARES Act in supporting students' educational needs. These findings will be presented to the school leaders who are supporting the district's effort to address unequal educational opportunities that have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest.

The general Call for Proposals for the next ERSP submission and review cycle is now live with a deadline of January 6, 2021.