A follow up op-ed by Yoslin Amaya Hernandez was published on September 3, 2020 by The Aspen Institute.
As a full-time student and part-time employee, I have just one more thing on my plate to balance what most traditional students don’t have – kids. As a mom of two boys under five, you can imagine the hectic life I already lead on a day to day basis. Most people ask me when I sleep, but sleep hasn’t been in my vocabulary for the last five years.
As a student parent, I already face barriers on my path to postsecondary completion, and this pandemic has only made my journey more challenging. Many parents who are quarantined only have to balance work and homeschooling their children, but student parents now have to balance work, our own schoolwork, as well as our children’s, all while trying to find the resources to do so.
Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, I was interning three days a week at the Maryland General Assembly, taking five courses this semester so I can graduate within two years, and working part-time as a custodian five days a week. I was finally adapted to my routine and was beyond ecstatic to participate in my internship. The next thing I knew, everything changed.
I was taking two online courses and three on campus courses. We were on the eve of spring break when rumors began to swirl that we would soon move to “remote learning” – the two words I feared the most. I am not one who thrives in online courses. Nevertheless, a couple of days later, I received the email I was dreading; we were moving to remote learning until April 10th.
Then came the second wave: I had to begin working remotely for my internship, another thing I feared because I had never done telework. The third and biggest wave came soon after. My two sons also had to learn remotely, and I now needed to become a pre-K teacher and speech language pathologist too. As a Politics and Government major, neither of those two careers were in my neck of the woods.
My sons were home for about two weeks before any remote learning began because the state was hoping things would be under control by then and return to business as usual. That was not the case. School closures were announced on Thursday and learning was to begin on Monday. My husband and I had to prepare in four days for this new normal for our sons.
With only one laptop at home and with my husband now moving to remote learning as well, we needed an extra laptop to work with them. I was constantly checking my email for any updates from my older son’s school.
I was lost, confused, and scared because if I can’t feel confident in doing my own online classes, how am I going to teach my son? My fear is having my children fall behind the rest of their peers and as children from a family with low income and a teenage mother, the odds are already against them.
My younger son is in speech therapy because he is developmentally delayed in speech, which already puts him way behind academically. I now have to wait for his remote learning lesson plans and become a speech pathologist for him so we can continue bringing him up to speed with the rest of the children his age.
We were able to get a laptop from my older son’s school to work, but only because I am signed up to receive alerts from his school. I was the point of contact for many of the Latinx people in my community and my Delegate Office who were preparing a list of resources to send out to different organizations because too often parents were unaware of the resources being provided.
However, when we tried to login to the laptop, we weren’t provided a username or password. Trying to get a hold of IT services meant a two-hour wait time – time I didn’t have to spare because of my internship. When remote learning began, we had not been contacted by my child’s teacher on the lesson plans for the week nor had I been contacted by my younger child’s speech language pathologist.
The fear was creeping on my shoulder not only because my children’s teachers had not contacted us, but also because the number of COVID-19 cases in our county was quickly rising, and I was an essential employee after non-essential businesses were ordered closed in Maryland.
The possibility of bringing the virus home to my children looms over me like a cloud. With gloves being the only protective gear provided to me as a janitor and a positive case of COVID-19 in the building I work in, the fear is amplified even more.
I still work part-time at night as a janitor because I can and I need the income. But I have to find the time for my children and their learning, while continuing to work remotely for my internship and do my own homework during the day. Learning to balance things in a different way has been overwhelming to say the least.
Waking up at six in the morning to do shopping I used to regularly do at any time has now become a new normal. Not only because it’s when stores are stocked on groceries and the least amount of people are there, but also because my children are asleep then and won’t cry when I leave. They don’t understand why I can no longer take them to store with me and it hurts to see them cry.
The one semester I decided to add the extra class and an internship, I had to find a balance in homeschooling my children. Have I thought about dropping my fifth course? Yes. Trying to balance this extra class with all the work I have has proven to be a lot more stressful than I would have hoped. Will I do it? No, I won’t. I need to graduate now more than ever. Will I lose my sanity once all of this over? Very likely.
And yet, I consider myself one of the few lucky student parents. I am still employed, I have the resources, and I have the support to continue to provide more for my family, but many parents do not.
I came across many parents who weren’t aware of the resources being offered to fill the gap that remote learning would bring, and the food insecurity that many of them were experiencing because of how unprepared the school system was for something like this. The announcement of extended school closures was on a Wednesday, and laptop distribution began the next day.
People are crumbling after one missed paycheck and are struggling to find the resources due to lack of assistance from the school system. The resources exist, but they aren’t being publicized. After this pandemic is over, there has to be some self-reflection on how we can each contribute to better society – starting with our local schools.
My hope is that we learn to appreciate teachers more because we are now in their shoes. I hope we can learn that the minimum wage essential employees who carried us during this pandemic deserve a living wage. If none of us are able to live on $1,200 a month, neither can they.
I hope schools can learn from this pandemic and be better prepared to assist the students from families with low incomes in getting the resources they need in a timely manner, so they too can continue succeeding in their academics. I also hope we can learn to look after one another because when something like this happens, we are all in the thick of it.
Yoslin Amaya Hernandez is a Generation Hope Scholar and an Ascend Parent Advisor supporting the Aspen Postsecondary Success for Parents Initiative.