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For Jordan-Matthews senior Daisey Gaspar Samayoa, school wasn’t just a place of learning or a ticket to a good future — it was a refuge.
Before COVID-19, she had a full plate: besides schoolwork, she played tennis, participated in about 10 clubs and babysat her two younger siblings nearly every day upon returning home from school.
“I really liked school,” Gaspar Samayoa said. “I enjoyed going there and socializing with people a lot and I would say being away from home for a good time ... (It was) a breather, because I knew that night afterwards I had to go and help (my family) out.”
But since COVID-19 forced schools online, Gaspar Samayoa and other Jordan-Matthews Latinx students have lost that “breather,” missed out on the high school experience and been forced to take on greater responsibilities.
Adjusting to remote learning and the reality of “being stuck at home” has been one of the biggest challenges Selina Lopez — the Hispanic Liaison’s youth leadership program manager — has seen among the Latinx youth she works with, a group that includes Gaspar Samayoa.
Many haven’t seen their friends since March, she said, since the transition into remote learning was so abrupt, and some didn’t even get the chance to say goodbye in person.
“I think it’s just been really lonely for a lot of them, especially since their support system is usually their friends or these other adult mentors in their lives, like some teachers or counselors,” she said, adding, “School for some of them is their safe space, (and) coming to our office is like a second little home. For them, losing these spaces is really, really rough.”
That’s why virtual learning dealt a heavy blow to Jordan-Matthews junior Ashley Perez.
“I am that person that gets motivated seeing other people being happy and seeing other people with me, knowing that I’m not really alone,” she said, adding, “Just knowing that I’m not near friends (or) my teachers that I really care about, it kind of like makes me feel like, ‘Oh, wow, do I care?’”
Ever since the school district switched over to remote learning, Perez said she’s been grappling with procrastination and lack of motivation.
“I don’t like admitting that I’m competitive because I want everyone to have a chance, but I’m low key competitive,” she said, “and if I’m not around people, I don’t have the motivation to be like, ‘Oh, wait, I can do better (than) that.’”
It’s also just hard to focus and participate, students say.
Berenice Diaz-Acosta, another junior at Jordan-Matthews, feels like she’d learn and perform better if she were in school. In the classroom, she said, there’s always a teacher right there to help her learn.
“But right now, I can’t really focus as much because I have to worry about the other assignments, and sometimes the teacher won’t be there to help me throughout those assignments or help me do the assignment,” she said, adding, “Throughout this whole process, I feel like I’m teaching myself by doing the assignment.”
School starts at 8 a.m. and finishes by 3:15 p.m., though Diaz-Acosta said she usually finishes her schoolwork two or three hours later. Perez’s day is a bit longer: Sometimes she said she finishes her schoolwork closer to midnight.
“Everyone thought we would get more sleep, but honestly, I feel like we’re losing sleep,” she said. “It’s just an adjustment we’re trying to get through and get used to a new normal.”
Her teachers build in several live Zoom sessions throughout the week, during which students can seek help or ask questions, Perez said, but it’s not that simple.
“Lots of students — I am also one of those — have this fear of asking for help, just because it’s not the same as face to face,” she said. “And we have the fear of like, ‘Oh, what if they’re busy?’ or, ‘Oh, maybe I’m just not looking at this right or I’m not reading the directions clearly, and I really don’t need to ask for help.’”
Many worry that their questions will sound stupid, she said, and since everyone’s cameras are off, no one really wants to put him or herself out there.
“It’s just hard,” Perez said. “I turn off my camera because I don’t want to be the only one to turn on (her) camera. And everyone’s muted, and you just don’t know what to say. You just listen along. You’re like, ‘OK.’”
That’s why she wishes teachers would be a bit more open and relaxed with students.
“I want them to know that we students really do care about them, and hope they’re doing just as great, and that they have the right to feel open,” Perez said, adding, “The more open you are, the more students will probably feel very comfortable and be like, ‘Hey, we want to get to know you more, too.’”
Remote learning has also forced some students to assume many responsibilities that teachers and parents traditionally fulfilled.
Many students live with younger siblings and parents working to put food on the table, Lopez said, which means many family responsibilities — like house chores, feeding their siblings and supervising their siblings’ education — have fallen to them.
“I think that’s the biggest barrier for a lot of them,” she said, “that time management of juggling their younger siblings attending school and then also them attending their Zoom meetings.”
Diaz-Acosta said that’s partly why she’s so stressed. Her younger brother is a sixth grader, and she’s in charge of waking him up every morning and getting him to his Zoom meetings.
“He’s not used to being online and everything, so I have to help him throughout that process,” she said. “And I have to keep him aware like when his Zoom meetings (are and) when he has to turn things in.”
On top of that, said Diaz-Acosta, she’s got to worry about “a month’s worth of assignments,” house chores and fitting in breaks for herself to “make sure (she’s) not stressing way too much.”
Perez and Gaspar Samayoa juggle similar responsibilities. Perez’s younger brother is in his second year of middle school, and she also has to help him navigate his online classes, which takes time away from her own schoolwork.
“I wake up early in the day just to get a head start for work,” she said. “And then I see him watching TV, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God. I need to get him motivated to (go to) school.’”
Gaspar Samayoa has two younger siblings, a 5-year-old brother and 10-year-old sister, both in elementary school. She said a typical day for her starts at 5 or 6 a.m. and doesn’t end until her younger siblings go to bed.
“My mom works the night shift,” Gaspar Samayoa said. “She sometimes wakes up to wake me and my younger siblings, but sometimes I wake them both up, and then I make them breakfast. And then I try to put in as much of my own work, and then I do his class, and then I’m like, ‘Hey,’ (to) my younger sister, ‘Get on your class.’”
Due to language barriers, she also acts as the liaison between her parents and her siblings’ teachers, who she said usually message her for everything.
“I’m always emailing their teacher because the language barrier between parents and staff is always there and it’s always hard,” she said.
But Gaspar Samayoa said these experiences have helped her grow and taught her to be more self-dependent.
“(At first) I would tell my mom, ‘Remind me this. Remind me that,’” she said. “Now it’s on me to remind myself and my siblings.”
And for all three students, a pervading sense of loss adds salt to the wound. With schools closed for the foreseeable future, they may not get to participate in many traditional high school “rites of passage,” like prom or graduation.
“Last year, I thought junior year was going to be like my year,” Diaz-Acosta said. “I felt like we’d have the same experiences as the other students who used to be juniors and now seniors.”
Samayoa Gaspar said she was excited to be a senior and had anticipated taking part in the school’s annual senior parade in which they “drive in looking crazy, like honking.” She was looking forward to prom, too — both as a senior and a junior.
“Junior year, I bought my dress last year and it didn’t happen,” she said.
Perez shares these sentiments, but she’s still optimistic.
“I feel like I am missing out on a lot, but at the same time safety comes first, and I’m not the only one,” she said. “And so when the day comes where we are able to (return) and it’s safe, it’ll be bigger and better.”
Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.
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