Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, 50CAN will be working to connect with some of our country’s leading thinkers, educators and policymakers as they share their best thinking on needed adaptations for our education system, districts, schools and classrooms that will best serve students during this challenging and chaotic time.
HawaiiKidsCAN Executive Director David Miyashiro has been a leading voice calling for funding to go directly to families in the Aloha State. He sits down with 50CAN CEO Marc Porter Magee, where they discuss the impact of Covid-19 on Hawaii’s families and the urgent need for policy change.
Marc Porter Magee: Okay, well, we’re back with another interview from the field. And I’m excited to go all the way over from here in my home in Virginia to Hawaii to understand what’s going on in the 50th state and really learn from the work that David and the team are doing at HawaiiKidsCAN to put kids and families first. So welcome, David.
David Miyashiro: Aloha, Marc.
Aloha. So I wonder if you could help us maybe just start with your own connection to this work and your journey and what brought you to the point of wanting to lead an education advocacy campaign in Hawaii.
Absolutely. So I’m somebody who considers myself privileged to be a fourth-generation Hawaii resident. Both of my grandparents, my dad’s side, still live out here in the town where my dad was raised, both in their mid-90s. So Hawaii is my home. It’s a place where I care deeply about, and I have always wanted to make a bigger impact. So for me, being somebody who started out my career after college as a public school teacher out in Hawaii, but then really seeing government let down our families and our students through this Furlough Friday’s experience, where we lost 17 days of the school calendar just like that, really got me interested in politics and policy and advocacy. And then after spending time in DC learning the ropes on the hill and working on political campaigns, finally had the chance to come back home and take all the things I learned and try to make a difference back here.
Yeah. And that galvanizing experience you had with Furlough Fridays, I think, most people probably don’t know what that’s about. But maybe let us into that because I think it also speaks to the challenges we have right now with the disruptions in Hawaiian public education.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s interesting, I think, early on in this COVID-19 crisis, I had this PTSD or flashbacks to when I was a teacher at Furlough Fridays where it’s– this upcoming budget crisis, kids and teachers and parents being told, “Stay at home. You’re not coming onto campus today. Nothing you can do about that.” And so for me, I think, what it made me realize was that in times of crisis, that voice of the families, the voice of the students really needs to be loud and clear. Because, really, besides a kind of heroic parent effort that occupied the governor’s office at the time, there really wasn’t kind of any key group or set of groups that were speaking out for the kids that I remember, at least, when I was in the classroom. So, for me, I think the way that we treat our families and our kids during times of crisis reveals kind of our priorities. So the more we can do to help them through their struggles, I think, says a lot about our leaders.
Yeah. Absolutely. And who would have known it would have been back to this challenge of can we actually have five days a week of education and how do we bring those voices to bear for what kids and families really need? I know that it’s been a really challenging time in Hawaii. I wonder if you could just let us into what’s going on right now in schools and the economy and the larger communities in the state?
Yeah. I think Hawaii had been riding high for a few years now with great visitor numbers, a lot of spending in-state. And so it was almost this false sense of security where, even in March, we had as low as close to 2% unemployment rate, which is incredible. But the next week, or in the next month in April, we’re at a 25% unemployment rate. So to me, that speaks to a broader challenge where folks like me have gone around talking about we need our kids to be skilled. We need our kids to be able to create new economic realities in the state. I think we saw the consequences if we weren’t thinking into the future enough. So I think, for us, we have this really awful choice in front of us in many ways, which is for an economy that’s largely based on lots of people coming from all over the world and being very in close quarters to each other and knowing that’s, unfortunately, something that is a health risk right now, we’re stuck and looking at, I think, really challenging economic times ahead. And so, for our families, trying to make it through this has been such a struggle, and trying to make sure that kids have access to learning supports but also just have opportunities to connect with each other and to talk to their friends and feel like they’re going to be okay, I think that’s the part that I I’m the most heartbroken about. Which is you hear stories from kids who are just tired of staring at screens all day, and they miss what it feels like to go grab smoothies with their friend at the mall, right? Just little things like that that we take for granted. So I’m really hoping that as this crisis drags on for us, and now that we’re in our second shutdown, that we think about a human-centered approach that puts kids first.
Absolutely. And you and the team have been really leaders in the network with that relationship-based approach to advocacy, talking with people, connecting with them, creating trainings, and you were really the first to jump right in and say, “We can bring that into the digital world.” So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how that’s gone and what are the new issues that we face in this new era?
Yeah. I think one of Hawaii’s real strengths is that, naturally as an island state, we have to work together, right? And even for those of us who may not work together directly all the time, we have connections. So we’ve been doing a lot of work, for example, on digital equity with folks at AT&T, and they’ve been a great partner. And one of our main points of contact there is somebody I’ve known since high school, right? So this is how it works in Hawaii. You have those friends of friends, family friends who are all trying to do their part to uplift the broader community. And so it’s really tapping into those networks. And then one of the exciting things that I found is, now that everybody is shifting into this virtual workspace, we’ve been doing this a ton of work across islands. It used to be kind of pricey. You’d have to get on a small flight, go to another island, pay for rental and hotel. And now every day, I’m talking to a community member on a different Island, which is awesome. So I think many of the challenges that we share across the state, you certainly see regardless of what Island you’re on, but I think the challenges around things like connectivity in these rural communities is especially pronounced. And so, for us, what we’re really trying to do is– now that the inequities are laid there, how do we pull the veil back and show that, no, things are not okay, but we’re coming with solutions, we’re coming with coalitions, we’re bringing together cross-sector partners from industry, nonprofits, schools, funders to try to solve those problems directly. And because we’re policy folks, try to think about the long term solutions so that we can actually make sure this is a call to action, this is a wake-up call, and no matter what crisis is going to hit us in the future, we’re going to be prepared for it, at least better than we were this time.
Yeah. And it seems like one thing that you and the team are doing together with the coalition partners is addressing those immediate needs but thinking about them in ways that speak to what’s the longer-term strength for education. And seems like one of the things you settled on is this idea of direct support to families. So I wonder if you talk about why you’ve chosen that as a policy goal and how you’re going about tackling it.
Yeah. This is something that I was certainly kind of inspired by with a lot of the work that was happening across the 50CAN network, including the Fund Everything report that you folks put together that I thought was really a helpful guide, thinking about the challenging future ahead. And as I talk to local partners on the ground out here, one of the things that’s loud and clear is that we have everything we need locally. And I know sometimes that’s counterintuitive, and there’s a thought that we always have to bring in consultants from outside the state and things like that. But we’ve got great community partners. We’ve got great organizations that do the work every day to try to support kids. But families don’t necessarily have the means to access those supports. I’ll give you a couple of examples. One is the YMCA learning centers where in the YMCAs, they’ve got these great facilities, they’ve got internet connection, they’ve got clean bathrooms, they’ve got supervisors who are trained to work with kids. And for parents who are essential workers and don’t want to leave their kids at home but don’t feel comfortable sending them a full 100% back school, these learning centers are a great opportunity to get some of that support and get that tutoring as well. But the YMCA needs funding support to be able to offer those. And so families may not be able to pay the fee that it costs to go there even if it’s small. And then on the smaller level, one of the nonprofits we work with around computer science issues, they started a really great program called Co-working For Kids. And if you go into their facility, it looks like any other cool co-working place you would be, but it’s really kind of a small intimate environment for kids to, again, have that support, have a safe place to go through distance learning and not lose that human connection.
And I think that is so important that we can’t look at other human beings as just carriers of disease, right? We need each other. We need those opportunities to see each other face-to-face in a safe environment. And I’m really grateful for these community partners who’ve started these kinds of organic community efforts.
Absolutely. So it’s great to see that come together. I wonder if you could just finish by helping us understand how we can follow along with this. Maybe we’re in Hawaii, if not in Hawaii, how can we connect in with your campaigns right now?
Absolutely. First, the month of September, we started a petition, which you can read about on our website at hawaiikidscan.org, or you can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and follow our campaign to galvanize the community around this idea that families need help right now. They don’t need it in three months, right? They don’t need it in six years in planning for that. They need help right now. They needed help yesterday. So our hope is to engage the governor, engage the legislature around how do we think more creatively using platforms to bring funds directly to families – right? – using concepts like Oklahoma’s digital wallet where families can have funds already in an account, and they can use those funds to pay for service providers like the YMCA that we mentioned or school supplies if they’re running a pod out of their home or even things like paying for WiFi access. We know that there are some national backlogs, unfortunately, for devices across the country. And sometimes for families maybe as simple as, “Can I get help to pay for our internet bill this month because we’ve been out of work for several months?” So really trying to put the trust and put the responsibility into the hands of families to decide what they need the most and to give them that opportunity for the support they need. So we hope that folks follow along with us online and sign the petition or share it with friends. Even if you’re not in Hawaii, we know this is an issue that is going to affect everybody right now, and we really want Hawaii to be the leader in resilience as we get out of this really immense crisis of our lifetimes.
Great. Well, thank you so much, David, and thank you to the whole HawaiiKidsCAN team and coalition, and we can’t wait to see what you do next.
Aloha, Marc. Thanks for the opportunity.