On Returning to School, Navigating Housing Insecurity, and Surviving a Pandemic
August is the time when parents get to have a break from their kids, and kids get to spend time with their friends. These were the normal circumstances before COVID-19 entered our lives. However, the pandemic has dramatically changed people’s lives, some for the better and some for the worse. Now that the vaccine is being distributed, the School Board is planning on reopening schools once more.
But through all of this, an important voice is neglected from this school decision making. It’s the voice of the youth, and in particular the homeless youth who are going to be going back to school next week. So I asked some about their thoughts on schools reopening, and about how they managed themselves through the pandemic. Here are their stories.
Nine-year-old Naomi, a future mathematician, is going into fourth grade. She told me how happy her family was before the pandemic. They lived in Daly City at the time and she especially enjoyed not needing to wear a mask everywhere. When COVID began, it was really hard for Naomi to participate in online classes because her family had unstable WiFi. At first, she had to use her mom’s phone to make it to classes, but she got a computer later on. She says that understanding the material was especially challenging. Before, she could raise her hand and ask questions from the teacher directly, but she couldn’t do that anymore. Naomi’s big struggle, though, was with Zoom, because she and her family were notorious for losing the Zoom link for her classes.
Naomi says she is nervous about going back to school in person—not because of COVID, but because she is now in an entirely different city, in an entirely different school, and would be meeting classmates that she didn’t know before. Because of rent hikes, her mom could not pay the rent on their place in Daly City and was forced to leave. It took months of looking, but Naomi’s family finally found a place in the city.
Naomi’s older brother, Hector, is 14 years old. He is going into ninth grade and he likes P.E. I asked how COVID affected him and his family, and he told me that it affected his mom, who was struggling to find work and keep a stable job, which is what forced them to move in the first place. Hector has had a hard time making friends, both because of moving all the time as well as the impersonality of online classes. When I asked him about his fears about going to a new school, I learned that he was already in school. He feels comfortable in school and is glad everyone there is masked and safe. Hector, even more than Naomi, is so glad that he is back in school so that he would have the opportunity to make new friends and ask questions of his teachers about things that needed to be clarified. He is bummed about COVID but he sees the bright side of it, and says that he got to understand his family more through it, and grew stronger from their support.
Naomi and Hector are both really excited about being able to go back to school. They feel that they will be able to advocate for themselves better by being in the room with their teachers and interacting with their classmates in person. They both had to move around a lot, and school is working to bring back the good old days for them.
But not everyone shares that opinion. Some actually prefer having classes online rather than go to school in person. Yessica is 18 years old and is a senior in high school. Before COVID-19, Yessica‘s life was fine and generally had a chill vibe, with nothing really happening. When online classes started during the spring semester of her sophomore year, it was really hard for her: trying to get the teacher to clarify things, WiFi challenges, and just general difficulty. By her junior year, Yessica understood how to get by in school, but more importantly, she found a job that she truly appreciated at the Coalition on Homelessness. She attended school to get through classes, and not so much to make friends—she had no choice in how school went, but her job was something she chose, and she found her home in the job she loves doing.
“Going to school, it’s a lot,” Yessica says. “I just feel online school works best because I am working.”
Yessica is concerned about COVID and is worried about the delta variant, and spreading it to her mom. Yessica really likes her job and said she wouldn’t do a job that she did not enjoy. Yessica has anxiety and feels that COVID gave her an opportunity to really look at herself and reflect on what she wanted to do, and she is thankful for the realization. Since she is about to graduate, I asked her what she wants to do after high school. She says she wants to get an associate’s degree, and sees a path as a social worker helping people who are homeless.
It is important for readers to understand what kids think about school reopening—especially kids who are often ignored but who are still striving for success despite all odds. Naomi wants to learn more about herself so that she can stay at home for a long time. Hector had to move from place to place but is striving to “learn new things and to make new friends.” Yessica lived in a Single Residency Occupancy (SRO) hotel and found her place in her work building coalitions to end homelessness. Each of them is striving for something, and I hope you, our reader, find something to strive for in these difficult times.