Resilience Reimagined: The Education Trust

The Education Trust leads the fight for educational equity during COVID-19

As COVID-19 spread throughout the country, the school system had to rethink almost everything. A new way of learning began to emerge as innovative and creative decisions were made to address virtual and in-person instruction, as well as managing operations. But today, some are asking; when some students are left behind from these changes, what happens? 

Wil Del Pilar chats with Ray Galloway, Building Operations Manager.
The Education Trust, a national nonprofit based in Washington D.C., has been digging into this issue and uncovering some harsh realities. Throughout the pandemic, Wil Del Pilar, Vice President for Higher Education Policy and Research at The Education Trust, and his team huddled together to create timely solutions in an effort to close opportunity gaps that disproportionately affect students of color and those from low-income families and communities. 

Through research and fierce advocacy, The Education Trust strives to expand excellence and equity in education from preschool through college, increase college access and completion, engage diverse communities to education equity, and influence political and public will to act on these issues. They serve and speak up for students, especially for historically underserved students. 

Wil Del Pilar catches up with Sancia Celestin on a video call.
Sancia Celestin is one of the many students whose lives have been impacted by The Education Trust’s initiatives. After meeting Del Pilar at a student advocacy panel, Celestin shared her experience as president of first-generation student organization, F1rst Gen Mason, at George Mason University. As the child of two Haitian immigrants, Celestin was encouraged to become a doctor, but pivoted to education policy due to her college experience. 

“Everything that I was involved with at school was directly related to my identity of being first-gen and low-income,” says Celestin. With the help of The Education Trust and its vast network, she is now interning at The Lumina Foundation, fighting for students to achieve access and success beyond high school.

Del Pilar serves students like Celestin because he was once in their shoes. As a former first-generation student, he still wonders why “we always point out these pockets of excellence, but why isn’t there excellence throughout all schools?” After being discouraged from applying to college, Del Pilar took matters into his own hands, studying for the SATs by himself and becoming the first one in his family to graduate from college and earn a Ph.D. 

Wil Del Pilar prepares for a virtual meeting in his kitchen.
“We expect low-income students or students of color to be resilient, but then other people just get to be privileged. With my own experience, I think we need to ensure that we’re providing equitable education to all students. I’m not an example of resilience. I succeeded despite my educational experience, not because of it,” says Del Pilar. 

As The Education Trust shifted towards remote work, their advocacy efforts did not waver. They are pushing for more school funding, teacher diversity, digital access, and a more holistic look at community and school care. COVID-19 has shed a huge spotlight on the systemic inequities in the education system. And as the world shifted towards virtual learning, many low-income students were struggling to access Wi-Fi, laptops, or even spaces to learn inside their homes. 

“There are kids in parking lots trying to get WiFi to do their homework. It’s real and shows the urgency of doing more,” says John B. King, CEO and President of The Education Trust. As a result, lower-income Americans and minorities are suffering higher levels of unemployment and school dropouts. 

Wil Del Pilar answers a phone call on his way to a meeting.
According to research from The Education Trust shared during a recent Zoom call, enrollment for Native American students is down 10% and 8% for Black students. Gap years may be a solution for some, but they are nearly impossible for lower-income students. Students from low-income communities do not have the luxury to take a year off. Many go off to work to sustain their family life, then rarely re-enroll in school. "There is some early data on this, and they’re calling this generation the ‘Lost Generation,’" says Del Pilar. "There are students who haven’t logged onto a Zoom class since the pandemic hit. We could possibly lose a whole generation of students and may never recover the learning.” 

Wil Del Pilar prepares for a conference call.
That is why The Education Trust is fighting more than ever for equity-driven, data-centered, and student-focused change. From federal and state legislative pushes to providing hard-hitting data, The Education Trust is continuously advocating for these students through research. They meet with decision-makers to hold them accountable and engage in crucial and courageous conversations, even when faced with fierce opposition. 

Wil Del Pilar on the rooftop of The Education Trust office in Washington, D.C.
“I will always treasure The Education Trust in my heart because they really put action behind their words. They truly believe in social mobility and student-centered voices,” shares Celestin.

Capital One is proud to support The Education Trust and their fierce dedication to creating opportunities for all students. Their advocacy and research work will be critical as the education system reimagines new ways to advance equity for all.

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