NYC Principal Alice Hom Prepares for a Return to School After a Year of Heightened Anti-Asian Sentiment and COVID-19

NYC Chinatown Principal Alice Hom (Getty Images)

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For 18 years, principal Alice Hom has created a strong, tight-knit community at PS 124, Yung Wing Elementary School in the heart of Manhattan’s Chinatown. During COVID-19, the school shut down offering remote classes; and was ultimately able to start some in person instruction last spring. Additionally, New York City saw a dramatic increase of anti-Asian hate crimes, rising 833 percent within the past year. With classes set to begin on September 13th, principal Hom faces many challenges, including making her students, staff and families feel safe.

The 74: What was the atmosphere like in the community during the peaks of anti-Asian hate and COVID-19?

Alice Hom: During the pandemic, our school had 30 percent of our students in person, so about 70 percent were remote, full time, the whole year. And a lot of that, I believe, did have to do with the fear of COVID-19 … but also with the anti-Asian sentiment mid year, parents did express fear of traveling on subways and buses … and were concerned about the safety of their kids, both health wise and physically.

The 74: How did you combat the negativity during the heightened times of hate?

Alice Hom: Around May, when we had our celebration of Asian Pacific month … our district, district 2 had a whole initiative where all the kids wore buttons that expressed love, peace, and prosperity. The kids also wrote on ribbons about what their hopes and dreams are. We displayed that around the school to create a positive environment for families. And during the summer, during the summer program, a few more of the remote families did come back partly to get the kids reacclimated with their peers, and to psychologically get ready for next school year.

The 74: Could go into specifics of what you are anticipating for this upcoming school year? Are there any anxious parents? Or does it just seem like everyone’s like returning back and excited?

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Alice Hom: I think there’s still, especially with the Delta variant, there is that hesitancy … one parent was expressing that, there should be still a remote option for families. And that they’re very nervous about the illness, especially since the elementary school kids are not being vaccinated yet. And they were asking about masks and, and teachers being vaccinated. We’ve tried to address their concerns, and I spoke to that parent and said many of the teachers in my school that I know of are vaccinated, and we are getting ready for full in person. And we are going to continue masking. Everyone is required to have the mask, and we will do the social distance. We’re trying to figure out how to safely have lunch periods, when the distance should be larger and kids are unmasked. But that is our goal to have kids back in the fall.

The 74: Are there any concerns in terms of anti-Asian hate as schools return in the fall?

Alice Hom: We are going to address it, I mean, district 2 is focusing on, being culturally responsive, providing education and talking about racism and how to address those kinds of discrimination. And things like that. So, that is something that is being addressed both for Asians as well as the Black and Hispanic population … We are going to use videos and books for the kids to bring their own ideas about how they’re feeling. That’s really what we’re concentrating on at the beginning of the year, to have them talk about what their fears are, what their concerns are, and just to talk about what are the best ways to keep themselves and your family safe and healthy.

The 74: Do people still feel safe to be a little more hesitant? Do you think that sense of community was lost?

Alice Hom: I think there are a lot more cautious families in the neighborhood, there has been crime (against) the community, so we’ve had a lot more awareness. And many of the schools in our district have contacted our local precinct in order to have them Zoom and talk to the parents about safety tips. A lot of our staff members and family members got those whistles, and we distributed them out to people who wanted them. I think there is much more consciousness and vigilance that many of our families in the area have shown.

The 74: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Alice Hom: The Asian community is a strong community and has contributed so much to America, and especially in education. So there needs to be more collaborative and positive media and social media to address their contributions, but also to address their concerns in a way that is not derogatory or not looked down upon.

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