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Rethinking schools: Voices from the pandemic

Rethinking schools: Voices from the pandemic

There has been a lot of conversations between politicians, school leaders, and teachers about how to best manage the challenges of online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Arise High School, located in Oakland where I teach Spanish classes, we have responded to the same difficulties that a lot of schools are facing during the pandemic: we have distributed hotspots to ensure internet access at home, organized food deliveries to families once a week, and raise funds through GoFundMe for our families that are not eligible for the federal stimulus check (due to being undocumented or working in informal paying jobs). And that’s saying nothing of our continuous efforts to provide a good quality education on a completely new virtual platform to everyone.

In the education world, we are trying to plan for a future that is still uncertain. As schools and communities, how can we respond to the challenge of educating the youth during and after the pandemic? The answers are not clear yet, but a good start is to listen to the realities our youth are living in. I asked my 10th-grade students to share their experiences at home during the pandemic and their perspectives on how the schools can support them when they reopen. Here, Kenia shares her story:

Staff and one student from Arise High School prepare to deliver food to homes during the pandemic. Courtesy: Emily Gerstner

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Some can say that you only have one job and that is to be a student at home. But I have Hispanic parents and for them this pandemic is very hard and I have to help them in any way I can. For example, I help my mom clean every corner of the house so no virus can enter. I help her make meals and I give her a hand with the kids so she can have time to rest. I also help my dad. He is the one who has to go to the stores to buy the essential things for the house and for us. He requires help because he does not speak English and he doesn’t know the things my mom needs at home, so I help him so it makes it easier for him and because it is more probable for him to catch the virus since he is older than me. These are only some things I have to do during the day. When I have time, I do one of the various work my professors assigned me.

I think that the school leaders should know that it wasn’t easy to do all the work I was able to complete.I didn’t have the mental strength to push myself to do more work. I know people who are being affected near me. That those I know have had people died very close to them by this virus. Having to be in front of the computer while there is a pandemic that is affecting us is almost impossible. Having to help my parents to continue our lives is not easy. Having a full house and not having time for just oneself is complicated. I think that when schools re-open, they can give us a bit of space to express ourselves. Maybe being sheltered in place has opened doors to some to get to know themselves a bit more. Others may not be in the mindset they would want to be and need some space. Knowing how to manage stress and taking care of mental health is the most important thing once can do in this complicated situation. I hope that you all can recognize and understand that it truly has affected us.

Another student, Ahtziri, also imagines a school environment that can help her recuperate after the pandemic:

When school reopens, I hope that teachers can take things calmly. I want them to review with us everything we previously learned to be able to understand well, and also a bit on ourselves because many are already unaccustomed to what they did before. Now we are all focused on cleaning the house, keeping ourselves safe and healthy, and what I want is that when we return, the teachers and staff help us find ourselves again.

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Before, the role of student, and the time and space to be one, was clearly located in the school. Now, our older students have to balance their studies with increased responsibilities at home and family. They literally have to find the time and space to be students now. They are doing the best they can, while the role of the school in their lives is changing. It is not correct to imagine a future where “we return to normal” after this pandemic, when the whole world has already changed. As schools and communities, we have to build a new normal that not only educates our youth, but really cares for the student as a whole.

If you would like to contribute to the GoFundMe campaign for the Arise High School families, you can donate using this link: https://gf.me/u/x32y73. All funds raised go directly to Arise High School families who have applied for financial assistance.

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