Jill Yoshikawa, Ed.M.’99
Partner | Creative Marble Consultancy | Sacramento, California
As an educator in private practice, I have pivoted frequently, not only to meet the needs of clients, but to remain competitive in the near perfectly competitive educational support industry. I, working with my partners, have continuously sought to improve in order to most efficiently advise clients, who are mainly parents and students, about complex educational issues, including college admissions. Yet, in spring 2020, like everyone, I wasn’t fully prepared to contend with the multitude of educational challenges as the COVID-related schism to our daily lives unfolded.
Given the ever-changing COVID-induced disruption, overwhelmed administrators worked in a vacuum, quickly implementing solutions. As they tried to protect the safety of their multifaceted communities, they often created additional complications in the process. Stunned teachers, students, parents, and administrators questioned themselves and their purposes, and were hungrier than usual for information as they sought to preserve the continuity of students’ education.
Although typically in the spring I am recouping from the busiest time of our year — the fall college application season — I was alerted to the COVID health crisis as it began in Wuhan, China. Through a multitude of conversation with staff, we deduced that COVID-19 would not be contained and would spread around the globe, impacting institutions and individuals in its wake. I immediately began to contemplate possible impacts to our clients and ourselves, and how to mitigate them.
By early March, as government officials began recommending lockdowns, I became concerned that students would not be able to take SAT’s and ACT’s to fulfill application requirements, possibly jeopardizing the college admissions strategy of many. I scrambled along with my staff to gain greater clarity about what increasingly would be a more subjective admissions process for fall 2021. We knew the process would be further compounded by the upending of the academic grading system that may be equal to, or even more important for, evaluating applicants.
Throughout the spring, administrators haphazardly implemented a variety of adaptations of the time-tested academic letter grading system, which many students had perceived was an effective measure of not only their academic performance, but also likelihood of being admitted to college. Towards the end of the spring, the most consistent, broad policy change was the pass/no pass form of evaluation. This only further added to students’ and parents’ stress, especially given the difficulty of communicating with teachers and administrators remotely.
I spent much time this spring, via a variety of communication mediums — phone, text, email, video conferencing — listening to parents and students who shared fears, justified or not, about how they would be fairly evaluated during college admissions for a lifetime of work. For example, several Advanced Placement (AP) students, as well as their parents, worried if college admissions officers would fairly discern the meaning of the academic work completed over two-thirds of a school year, which was now masked by a “P”. In the early spring months, this fall’s admissions evaluations were seeming to be a more subjective process, but hadn’t yet been defined by admissions officers, who were also facing their own perfect management storm.
Throughout the spring until now, I have been desperately trying to keep up with the non-stop information flow in ways we’ve not had to do in the past in order to communicate with clients and provide guidance that may only be valuable for a very short period of time, given the evolving nature of the pandemic and the myriad of educational responses to disruption.
Currently there are more questions than answers, like how to educate students in the 2020–21 school year, including how to house college students on campus, especially as increasing numbers of COVID cases are reported around the United States, or how teachers can transition their pedagogy for online formats. I continue to collaborate with parents, students, teachers, administrators, staff, legislators, and other educators in private practice, as well as listen to the stress of parents and students who are battling an anxiety that is associated with change, whose agent can’t be seen. The silver lining for all of us involved, when we get through this crisis — and we will — is that we will all be better because our need for a shared humanity in times of struggle demands it.
Jill Yoshikawa is the educational partner at Creative Marbles Consultancy, based in Sacramento, California, advising clients around the country. She combines educational theory with experience to counsel families, schools, and educators, helping to nurture the next generation.