Covid threw many parents into the role of teacher. Although many schools have reopened to in-person learning across the country, some parents are still managing distance learning for their children. Parents also may still be struggling with a new normal that could include a mix of in-person and virtual learning or even trying to help a child who has fallen behind academically during the pandemic.
Readability’s CEO and Founder Ameeta Jain talked to educator, entrepreneur, author and mom Mimi Nartey about homeschooling during the pandemic and beyond as well as how to bridge the learning gaps during the stresses of pandemic learning.
An Interview with Dr. Mimi Nartey
AJ: Hi everyone, my name’s Ameeta Jain, I’m CEO of Readability. And I have a very special guest with me today, Dr. Mimi Nartey. Hi, Mimi.
MN: Hi, thank you so much for having me today.
AJ: Oh, it’s such a pleasure, and I really appreciate you taking time out of your full schedule to be with us. And speaking of full schedules, why don’t you let our viewers know a little bit about yourself?
MN: All right. Well, I am a work-at-home mom, work-from-home mom. I’ve got two kids, I have a son who’s in third grade, and I have a daughter who’s in seventh grade. And what’s really interesting about our family is about two years ago, right before middle school, we decided to pull my daughter out of traditional school and do a homeschool hybrid program.
I talked it over with my husband, and with my daughter, and we decided to make this kind of lifestyle commitment ’cause that’s really what it is, to take a non traditional educational path. And then of course, now, because of the context of COVID, my son is also at home learning distance. So I kinda even got more than I bargained for.
AJ: Well, it’s commendable that you’re taking this on, and I and also the courage, right? I think every parent has experienced that this year, or in 2020 this whole time during COVID what it’s like to have to try and do everything that you’re responsible for, and now have to be responsible for your child’s learning. And speaking with a lot of parents, they do feel like there’s been a lack of learning. And I thought that maybe as a mom who has taken this on, who was doing it, and then taking on a much greater, I don’t wanna say burden ’cause teaching our kids is a joy and a gift, but taking this extra responsibility on. What has that been like for you?
MN: So it has required a lot of flexibility of mind, adaptability. What I would say is in some ways it’s interesting because I made this decision just ahead of the pandemic. So I was prepared in ways that other women that I know, other mothers weren’t exactly. We had had someone come in and do kind of a consultation to help us organize a homeschool classroom, and we had taken all of these steps.
It was really serendipitous that it was able to make the most out of the situation. I felt like I had a little bit of infrastructure or framework to have this happen in our lives. But definitely, even making that initial decision was a challenge. Now, prior to this, for nearly a decade I was a college professor. I taught classes in environmental science, and public health at the university level. So one would think that I would have a lot of confidence in taking on like a middle school teaching, but it really is something that, you have to just give yourself a lot of grace, you commit to the process, I think it’s really great to kind of set deliverables for yourself so you feel like you are hitting certain things ’cause there’s so much flux and flow. It really is, it grows you in the way of learning to be just very flexible, and adaptable.
AJ: So that sounds like great advice to all those parents out there that have been learning this past year is to just breathe, and be flexible. But I know that parents are stressed out. “Are my kids learning? Are they absorbing this material? Have we wasted a year?” Is that something that you’re seeing yourself?
MN: I would say, every child’s different and every familial circumstance is different. And so I even see disparate outcomes between my two kids. I have one who’s a little bit older and a bit more autonomous, and, in some ways, she has gained and thrived a bit. But my younger son, it is a challenge. And so I think for me there’s just been a reframe. Right now, the best I can do is just support him emotionally through this, and then what I will look to do is as things open back up, as we get back into a normal rhythm, really kind of concentrate on assessing the learning gaps.
When we have that kind of stability and that security back, then that’s the opportunity to kinda go back through and say, okay, well maybe we didn’t make as much progress here, or here as we’d liked. But at the end of the day, we survived a pandemic, we learned, and we grew in many ways.
I see my children being forced to mature in ways that I might not have pushed them to. Like I said, it’s really about the framework. And then there are strategies to always close the learning gaps. First thing first is to work on and support the mental and emotional health of the children, and that’s what I think we really should focus our attention on, and that’s where we can also find some grace in our own process. We can think, this isn’t gonna be necessarily the year where you get five reading levels ahead, or something like that. But what have we learned about ourselves? What did we learn about ourselves as individuals and as a family? And in the coming year, we’ll go back through and see where we can get additional support for the learning process.
AJ: I love that so much. I love the idea of focusing on their mental and emotional wellbeing, their health, as we see so much happening in society and with our kids. Being there for them on an emotional level really speaks to me, and I’m sure it speaks to our viewers as well because parents have gone through their own stuff too, and so they’re struggling. They’re really out there struggling, whether it’s trying to work and teach their kids, and financially, I mean there’s just been such an impact on so many families out there. And do you, what would you suggest we do? Or do you have any ideas yourself on how we can bridge that gap in learning? I know that you have to assess where your child may be falling behind, whether it’s English, math, science. But what would you suggest we do to help understand where they’re falling behind, and what can we do to help them?
MN: I think again, in the coming months and over the next year or so, I’m gonna really suggest that all parents get in really close communication with the instructors. So if you aren’t the instructor yourself, again, I have the one child who will go back to traditional school. And really keep those open lines of communication, and ask for those kinds of assessments, and that feedback on where things may have fallen short.
For me as a homeschooling mom, I get to, because I determine the curriculum I kind of can see where we are, and I would say more of the challenge there is maybe I had intended for us to finish this curriculum by this time and we haven’t done that. But all of it, again, like I said, it’s a reframe. And just understanding that it seems like it’s been a long time and it seems like the impact is more immense than it actually is.
A year, even if you had to pull the child out of school for a year, people have to leave school for health reasons for a year, there are many reasons why this could’ve happened. And people are able to find some sort of resilience in a moment like this. So again, it’s just about changing what the expectations are in mind to say that, it doesn’t have to be the way that I had originally imagined it. Obviously it’s not gonna be the way that I had originally imagined it. But sometimes children, you might say the child needs to repeat, that’s okay, that’s okay. It’s one year.
AJ: It’s okay, exactly. One year in your whole life is not going to make or break you.
MN: Yeah, and I think, like I said, that’s what I mean about having the flexibility of mind, and really just seeing that there’s more time in this process than we think. That we have set an arbitrary arbitrary amount of time for an elementary education, or for the K through 12. It’s a little bit subjective what those years are gonna be. And because I have one parent who’s from another country, I have different worldviews that I borrow from. So, here we have a certain age that kids start school. What’s so funny is in my dad’s country, Ghana, he would tell me that when a child can kind of put their hand over their head and touch their ear, that’s when they say you’re ready for school. So it’s just kind of funny. So it’s not really age dependent. So when you borrow from other people’s perspectives and see that there’s more flexibility in this, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, the timeframes that we put, the pressures associated with those timeframes that we put on ourselves are really more imagined than real. Then it gives us the breathing room to be creative about what we can do to rise to this challenge.
AJ: I love that Mimi, and I’m sure the teachers that are watching us today are saying “Yes, Mimi,” and the parents that are watching are just so thankful for that hope, and peace of mind that you’re giving them that it’s going to be okay because that’s exactly what you’re saying, that it’s gonna be okay. And to make sure that you’re watching their emotional and mental health and wellbeing.
MN: Right, and I would even push it further. I always say my superpower is ruthless optimism. I think that from this, we have as a society, and especially with our kids, accessed technology in a way where after this, in the aftermath of this, if we’re very creative we can apply some of that technological intellect that we’ve gained to really improve access to education, and really improve opportunities for kids’ life through Readability and other kinds of things, ’cause the kids now have such an appetite, and the skill, a new level of skill to navigate these things. And the technology can lead to more equitable outcomes eventually. So I’m hoping that will be, in the long term, how we gain.
AJ: And you bring up a really good point. There are studies out there that do talk about how technology, things like when AI is speaking to you, kids are very receptive to it and so this is a mechanism, a way in which you can supplement their education. So that’s a really good point, thank you for that. So Mimi, I feel like you’ve given us, and by the way folks, for all of you today watching, Mimi is so humble and just like, “Oh, you know, I’m a mom and I homeschool.” She’s also a coach. There’s so much that she’s doing out there with, Mimi, I think you should tell them because I would love to hear a little bit more about the other things that you’re doing and how you’re just amazing.
MN: Oh, I appreciate that. Yeah, I feel like I’m very, very passionate about education and I conceive education very broadly, what that looks like, and what that means. And so I do coach soccer. In the past, I was a professional soccer player and I did get the chance to compete in the Women’s World Cup.
MN: It’s like secret lives of moms, you kinda, secret lives of moms.
AJ: Yeah, you’re just not a mom, even though being a mom’s amazing, yes.
MN: So I do coach youth soccer. I do spend a big part of my time invested in that because I also can see that as a different kind of educational intervention. I think sports is one epistemology, one way of knowing things, and I like to support kids learning and development through that. Another project that I’ve been working on for about five years, it’s called Race, Class, and Parenting. And it’s really a social justice parenting intervention. So I host symposiums, I create content, I write books, all related to social justice parenting. I think a lot of people, especially during the same time, it seems to have overlapped much with COVID. There’s been so much social and political unrest. And I know that there are a lot of people who are looking for support through their parenting process with that, how to open up conversations with kids about social injustice, how to give them a more tolerant and inclusive worldview. And so I have a passion to help those parents, what I always say is parent to their intentions, by providing them information and support.
AJ: I love that. Parent to their intentions. And then where can parents watching today, and teachers watching today find you? Where can they find this class?
MN: Yes, so I have a YouTube channel called Mompetitor by Mimi Nartey, like competitor, Mompetitor. And I do have a lot of content there if you just wanted to, for example, see a video about what is systemic racism. I have a couple of e-books available on amazon.com under the title, “Race, Class, and Parenting”. Or you can search my name, Mimi Nartey, or you could just reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
AJ: Oh, thank you, thank you, Mimi, that’s amazing. And I’ve really enjoyed talking to you today. And as you can see, the audience, she’s not just a homeschooling mom, she’s so many things to so many people, and I just really enjoyed our talk today. Thank you, Mimi.
MN: Thank you so much, it’s been great. Thanks so much, Ameeta, you’re a person for whom I also have a great amount of respect, so I’m excited to be here.
AJ: Thank you. Well, I feel like we’re going to do great things together, and it’s all about our kids, it’s uplifting our children, the most vulnerable in our society. And so we have a common path there and a common goal, when it comes to our kids. Thank you.
About Professor Mimi Nartey
Professor Mimi Nartey is an educator, interdisciplinary scholar, author, speaker, philanthropist, and social entrepreneur. She has an undergraduate degree in Environmental Biology and a graduate degree in Climate and Society from Columbia University in the City of New York. She completed her doctoral studies in Public Health with a Comparative Education minor.
Mimi has held a lecturing appointment at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and adjunct faculty positions at Occidental College and LMU. She is a women’s empowerment scholar, and her primary research focus is women’s health in sub-Saharan Africa. Her research experience includes developing anti-malarial drugs; using climate forecasts to predict disease epidemics; developing interventions for maternal and child health in sub-Saharan Africa; and using soccer to promote health. She presented research at the annual American Public Health Association Conference and Yale University. She has been invited to keynote at the annual Global Unite for Sight Conference at Yale University, and she has been invited by the government of Ghana to share research to the Ministry of Health.
Mimi is passionate about integrating science and philosophy to teach and promote social justice. She has been involved in pioneering new approaches to address social problems such as gender and racial inequality. She is the Founder and CEO of RCAP (Race, Class, and Parenting), which is a marketplace of ideas for women who are thought-leaders and influencers to engage in dialogue on social dynamics and parenting in communities of affluence. She has an e-book available on Amazon.com on this subject.
Mimi was formerly a professional soccer player. She was a silver-medalist in the 2002 African Women’s Cup of Nations, and she represented Ghana in the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup. In 2016, she was invited to give a TEDx Talk entitled, “African Women’s Soccer and Empowerment: Memoirs of a Black Queen.” In December 2019, she was named to the list of “Dynamic Women” by Modern Luxury Angeleno Magazine.
Mimi is married to Kofi N. Nartey, MBA (luxury real estate broker and television personality). In 2018, she and her husband co-founded The Nartey Sports Foundation to support sports-related interventions for underserved youth. The couple was named a 2018 and 2019 “Los Angeles Power Couple” in Modern Luxury Angeleno Magazine and LA Confidential Magazine. They live with their two precocious children, Liya and Lincoln, in Playa Vista, CA.
In 2020, Mimi launched a YouTube Channel (“MOMPETITOR by Mimi Nartey”) where subscribers can follow her life as a wife, mother, activist, coach, and philanthropist.