Completing the 2020 Census is vital for our schools

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The essential role that schools play in family and community life has never been clearer now that they are closed because of COVID-19. We are reminded daily, in many ways, that schools do more than provide an education for our children — they also feed, protect and care for them while parents and guardians are working or managing other commitments.

Now more than ever, it’s vital that we support our schools — and one of the best and easiest ways to do that is to respond to the 2020 Census. Every household in our nation is being invited to complete the census online, by phone, or by mail — without needing to leave the house. Census results will provide the basis for distributing hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds to communities like ours for the next decade. These funds support programs and services that our children and families rely on, including school meals, maternal and child health programs, and housing, heating, and food assistance. Alaska was among the states with the lowest self-response rates in the 2010 Census, and I’m fighting to make sure that changes this year so we can get the resources we need.

I’m proud to have developed materials and serve as an ambassador for the U.S. Census Bureau’s Statistics in Schools (SIS) program, which uses census statistics to improve data literacy and help prepare students for future learning and careers in an increasingly data-driven world. The SIS program collaborated with teachers across the country to create new 2020 Census activities, including a song, engaging videos, wall maps, and more. These resources are available for free on the SIS website.

My students were particularly excited about the activities on re-apportionment. Alaska has only one representative in the U.S. House of Representatives but the census data helped us understand the importance of local representation. For example, we reviewed a legislative map of the state to see how the population’s spread dictates where state legislative district lines are drawn. Students could see how important it is that everyone is represented in both urban and rural areas.

SIS resources are perfect for teachers and parents seeking ways to keep children learning at home while schools are closed. The activities are engaging and include easy-to-follow instructions, and no teaching experience is needed. Students can take a virtual field trip to the Census Bureau, test their knowledge with “The 2020 Census Challenge” video, or read along with the “Everyone Counts” story and activity book. The resources include activities children can do with their families to spread the message about the importance of responding to the census.

But remember, children can’t count themselves in the census — they’re depending on you to count them. When you complete the census, be sure to include every person living and sleeping in your home all or most of the time as of April 1, 2020, even if they are not related to you. Children under the age of 5 are often missed in the count. If a 5-year-old is missed this year, they won’t be counted again until they’re 15, and our schools will be missing that funding for most of their education.

We need to ensure our students have what they need to thrive — and the 2020 Census is a safe and easy way we can make that happen. Responses are confidential and protected by law, and you can complete the form at 2020census.gov. I’m dedicated to doing all I can to shape a bright future for my students, and that includes making sure everyone in my household is counted. I urge you to join me.


Lem Wheeles is a teacher at Dimond High School in Anchorage, Alaska and was the 2018 Alaska History Teacher of the Year.

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