Janet Garcia (center) spends time with her children Rachel, 5, and Nathaniel, 6, on the stoop in front of their home at Alazán-Apache Courts. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Perched on the stoop at her Alazán-Apache Courts home, Janet Garcia on Monday afternoon watched as her 5-year-old daughter Rachel read Green Eggs and Ham, tracing the individual letters by finger.

Suddenly, Rachel’s finger paused, hovering over a word she didn’t immediately know. Janet advised her daughter to really look at the word and not guess. After a few seconds, Rachel smiled and proudly read the word “would” aloud.

While her mother basked in the small victory, her mood changed as she thought about the educational challenges ahead for her children and others in her community.

As schools across San Antonio last Friday announced extended spring breaks as a response to the coronavirus pandemic, families faced the reality that their kids would be out of school for at least another week and they would have to balance jobs, meals, and transportation to make the unexpected childcare responsibilities work.

Schools announced meal pickups so families that needed assistance feeding their kids could maintain that aid. Schools also said instructional resources would be posted online for families to use with their children. While students are currently slated to return to school next Monday, it’s unclear if the closures will be extended and a switch to online learning will be adopted as more coronavirus cases are confirmed.

Northside ISD Superintendent Brian Woods oversees the area’s largest school district that enrolls more than 100,000 students. On Monday, he outlined the three main priorities for his school district at this time: keeping students and staff safe, continuing instruction, and feeding kids who need support.

“You can do [the priorities] fairly well and with a fair amount of fidelity in the short term, but in the long term, they become more challenging,” Woods said. “In the short term, I’m not too worried. I think our plan is pretty solid and will obviously improve as we go along. Long term, I am worried about our ability to continue to do those things well because there are factors outside of our control.”

Extended closures could present a significant challenge for working families or parents who don’t have the abilities or resources to help their students learn.

Garcia feels lucky because her job at the San Antonio Housing Authority allows her to work from home, but many of her neighbors don’t have the same luxury.

“It is stressful, it is chaotic, and I’m anxious,” Garcia said. “Our families, a lot of them, don’t have the measures to have meals or get prepared like everyone else can. We are the most vulnerable population in San Antonio because of our economic disadvantage and that’s why we’re reaching out to ask for help.”

Last weekend, neighbors knocked on Garcia’s door for advice and help. She passed out whatever supplies she could spare, careful to keep enough for Rachel and her 6-year-old son Nathaniel, who both attend a KIPP school. But her neighbors’ fears ran deeper than having enough Lysol wipes or toilet paper.

Nathaniel, 6, climbs a tree in front of Alazán-Apache Courts. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

One of Garcia’s neighbors is a single mom who doesn’t speak English and Garcia worried her neighbor’s kids wouldn’t be able to keep learning at home.

“How is a Spanish mom going to teach a kid that is learning in school in English?” Garcia said, pointing to some workbooks she picked up at Goodwill. “All this stuff is in English. [If] mom doesn’t understand English, it’s just more barriers.”

Continued learning also is a concern for Julia Hernandez and her two sons, who attend Lamar Elementary.

Hernandez doesn’t have internet or devices to continue lessons at home, so she’s hoping San Antonio ISD will provide her family with additional resources such as a mobile hotspot or devices, which have been available for SAISD students without home internet.

Some teachers have talked about starting Facebook Live or Youtube videos with regular lessons, but getting every student online with a strong internet connection could prove to be difficult.

There’s also an added obstacle in Hernandez’s job. The single mom works at the restaurant Paloma Blanca and can’t take off work, so she needs to find child care during the day so her sons aren’t alone. So far she’s been leaving her kids with another parent, although Hernandez wonders what she’ll do if schools continue to stay closed.

“It’s all about your level of privilege right now,” fellow Lamar parent Heather Eichling said. “What’s been really eating at me is the people that don’t have all these resources are left behind right now in many ways. … We all want our kids to be healthy, and educated, and safe, but it just comes a lot easier to some of us than others.”

Eichling and other Lamar parents are active in a Facebook group, trying to coordinate resources for parents and families that might not have access to transportation or technology.

But collective action through social media might not be enough to bridge the hardships that are bound to be compounded if school closures continue into future weeks, Garcia said.

That’s why the Alazán-Apache Courts resident has spent a large part of her day reaching out to elected officials and community organizations to learn about available resources and connect her neighbors to solutions to challenges that must be tackled.

There’s no other option, she said.


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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the Rivard Report.