Should SFUSD-owned KALW be mandated to air more student and community voices during and after shelter-in-place?

Kevin Robinson

by JR Valrey, Black New World Media

Over the last five months, the educational system has been ravaged by the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order, which was announced on March 12, 2020, by Mayor London Breed. Children have been government mandated to attend school via the internet, in an experimental system called “distance learning.” 

Why experimental? Because teachers from all over the Bay Area and the country were not adequately trained in how to instruct 20-30 children through the computer for six hours a day for a school year. Last school year ended with thousands of Black students in the Bay not able to access lessons because they lacked a computer or internet accessibility to participate. San Francisco Unified School District and the Oakland Unified School District, among others, are handing out Chromebooks right and left to try and create a panacea for the process. 

Although giving students Chromebooks and hotspots are the modern day bandaids, we have to create a new concept of what education is in the modern era, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, aka the newest tentacle of the ever expanding Silicon Valley. We have to use more of the media arts in our new curriculums, because everything around us is media. To not address this, we are condemning our children to learn the same lame colonial techniques and ways of thinking that we were programmed with. 

“Now more than ever, our schools and more importantly school districts have to use every available resource to keep their end of the societal contract,” said Kevin Robinson, a SFUSD parent, teacher and advocate for more student access to KALW radio station, a radio station located at 500 Mansell in San Francisco. 

For what was most likely the first time in U.S. history, the entire national high school graduating class of 2020 was unable to walk across the stage or field and share that wonderful experience with friends, family and their community.

“As a parent and educator, I feel compelled to assist the best way I know to better the emotional, social and educational experience of my child and anyone else that I’m entrusted with.” 

JR Valrey: Can you give us some history about KALW’s relationship to the San Francisco Unified School district?

Kevin Robinson: San Francisco Unified School District has owned radio station KALW (91.7 FM) since 1941. By owning it, that means the license to broadcast practically whatever they choose. They actually owned the original equipment and the physical location is inside a district high school (Burton). Built by district students and teachers, it was the first FM station west of the Mississippi. 

Sadly, not broadcasting those ceremonies was a missed opportunity.

JR Valrey: Where did you find this information? And where can people find it for themselves?

Kevin Robinson: All this is public knowledge, the bulk of which can be found on KALW’s website (kalw.org) in addition to the school district site (sfusd.edu).

JR Valrey: Why do you believe it is important for the Black and Brown students of SFUSD to have access to the station, especially now?

Kevin Robinson: For what was most likely the first time in U.S. history, the entire national high school graduating class of 2020 was unable to walk across the stage or field and share that wonderful experience with friends, family and their community. SF Unified was no exception. 

Sadly, not broadcasting those ceremonies was a missed opportunity. Were students able to share what that was like? How about what it was like to be sheltering in place during a pandemic? Being on the radio can go a long way to help. 

JR Valrey: What kind of program is needed, different from the programming that KALW already provides?

Kevin Robinson: There are all sorts of talented students and staff throughout the district and beyond that should have KALW as a platform to showcase their abilities. There is no lack of content, from spoken word to jazz band, orchestra to dramatic theater. However, to listen at any given time, you’d be hard pressed to hear consistent programming by, about or for students or for or about educators and education. 

JR Valrey: What do you think is truly at stake with this campaign? What are you fighting for the students to gain?

Kevin Robinson: I could be wrong, but I think if you give students something they are interested in, that’s a pretty good start to learning. To be honest, the old method of teaching is not coming back; it’s been changing right before us. 

Students have the right to have their voices heard and the opportunity to shine and excel in as many areas as possible. With that said, freedom of expression, the right to a good quality education and, maybe more importantly, the right for individuals to control their own narratives is timeless. 

JR Valrey: What can people do if they want to help your cause?

Kevin Robinson: People can “strongly encourage” more access for students and educational content be aired by emailing the decision makers. Tina Pamintuan is the general manager of KALW (tina@kalw.org) and Gentle Blythe is the San Francisco school district contact (blytheg@sfusd.edu). In addition, people can request action be taken by the SF Board of Education and its commissioners. Signing a petition is another good way to rally support.

SF Bay View Oakland Bureau Chief JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of the Black New World Journalists Society, can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com or on Facebook. Visit www.youtube.com/blockreporttv.