College & Workforce Readiness

Coping With Disruption at School and at Home

By Alex Harwin — October 20, 2020 3 min read
Magdalena Estiverne graduated from Evans High School in Orlando, Fla., this past spring during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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“It felt like a chapter that never ended,” Magdalena Estiverne said of her senior year at Evans High School in Orlando, Fla. She found out by voicemail in March that in-person instruction at her school was over for the year.

“Part of you is kind of missing,” she said. “It’s like your mind still goes back to it.”

Estiverne didn’t get to go to prom. She didn’t get to wear the strappy silver sandals her mom had bought her for that night. She knows it might sound like a small disappointment, because there are such big issues going on in the world, but she was looking forward to it. And having something to look forward to is what Estiverne said she needs most right now.

Like 18 percent of the 2020 high school graduates who responded to an August poll from the EdWeek Research Center, Estiverne has parents who were laid off or furloughed from their jobs in the hospitality industry because of the pandemic. To make ends meet, the family now receives government assistance. They also picked up food donations at Estiverne’s high school. The school’s student government teachers also delivered gift bags in May to all student government seniors, including Estiverne.

Now Estiverne is working toward an associate degree in psychology at Valencia Community College, with the help of a federal Pell grant. That puts her in the fortunate half of those who responded to the EdWeek Research Center poll. The survey found that, among the students who had planned in January to attend a two-year college, 57 percent were following through with those plans in August.

Estiverne hopes to become a social worker. By doing so, Estiverne said, “I can help people who are like me, who’ve gone through the same situation as I have.”

As a Haitian immigrant who moved to the United States at age 8, Estiverne feels that school has always been complicated for her. In the predominately Black public high school she attended, she said she did not feel “Black enough.” Plus, English is not her first language. Even so, she managed to get mostly A’s and B’s in high school and find friends over time—but social distancing prevented her from seeing them over the summer.

In April, her family had to find another place to live after the landlord sold their home. And in July, her parents, who are also both Haitian immigrants, were laid off from their hotel housekeeping jobs at Rosen Hotels.

Looking for a new home during the pandemic has complicated Estiverne’s efforts to continue her education. Her high school digital technology teacher connected her to a youth work program, which accepted her in March just before school shut down. But she said she didn’t get to finish enrolling because “my focus wasn’t 100 percent on school because we were constantly looking for places to go, homes and stuff like that until we found this house.”

Even now, in the house her family found—she shares a bedroom with her older sister—Estiverne’s Wi-Fi is unreliable. That’s a problem because her community college classes are taught remotely.

“Online classes, it’s like you don’t have access to the teacher,” Estiverne said. “When the Wi-Fi goes out, you can’t just email them and explain it to them.”

She’s enrolled in English Composition, General Psychology, and U.S. History. She’s avoiding college math after a frustrating and disappointing experience trying to learn math remotely in high school. She said she could never get the hands-on support she needed, and the delay in email communication just made things more difficult.

“I’m stressed out and anxious about the economy at this moment,” Estiverne said, echoing struggles expressed by other 2020 graduates in the EdWeek Research Center poll. “I don’t know what path we are going to take, especially with this election going on right now.”

Coverage of the education of exceptionally promising students who have financial need is supported in part by a grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, at www.jkcf.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the October 21, 2020 edition of Education Week as Coping With Disruption at School and at Home

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