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With School out in Spring, Food Insecurity Rose, Income Fell for Tulsa Families in Ongoing Study

Tulsa SEED

The sudden shift to distance learning in the spring was especially difficult for Tulsa’s low-income families.

A team of researchers already following kids from age 3 through fourth grade decided to survey parents and teachers after the sudden shift to distance learning in the spring. Almost 60% of parents reported lost household income, and 46% said they lost a job or had hours cut.

OU-Tulsa Early Childhood Education Institute Director Dr. Diane Horm, one of the researchers, said the reported rates of food insecurity struck her. Nearly half of all families didn't always have enough to eat, but it ranged from 25% of Asian families to 61% of Latinx families.

And parents of food insecure families were twice as likely to report feeling depressed.

"And so, that’s why it was really great that schools responded by having food available for pickup at so many locations around the city," Horm said.

Parents dealt with those problems while having kids learning from home. Most parents reported problems with distance learning, with rates highest when students had special needs. Teachers also had challenges in the format, with only 29% saying nearly all their students participated.

Horm said the sudden closure of schools showed how important they are.

"Indeed, for all families, that school is a safe, productive place for children to go during the day when parents have to work, and that’s often a role of schools that is overlooked," Horm said.

More than half of teachers surveyed said motivating their students during distance learning was very challenging.

Horm said researchers hope to follow up by assessing students sometime this school year.

"Looking at those child outcomes compared to how they performed in the past will give us insight into the impact of the pandemic and the associated shift to online learning and distance learning from home," Horm said.

Teachers were also strained at home, with 20% reporting food insecurity and nearly half having their own kids at home trying to learn while they tried to teach.

The Tulsa SEED Study surveyed both 586 parents and 118 teachers in a six-week period between May and July 2020.

Tulsa SEED is led by Principal Investigators Drs. Anna Johnson and Deborah Phillips at Georgetown University, Horm, and Dr. Gigi Luk at McGill University. The full SEED study team includes Drs. Sherri Castle and Anne Martin, April Dericks, Jane Hutchison, Anne Partika, and Owen Schochet.

It receives funding from the Heising-Simons Foundation, the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the University Strategic Organization Initiative at the University of Oklahoma, the Foundation for Child Development, the Spencer Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Note: The George Kaiser Family Foundation is a financial supporter of KWGS.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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