The last thing Magdalena Estiverne expected when her parents finally got their hotel housekeeping jobs back this summer after being laid off for a year was that she and her family would get COVID.
Education Week profiled Estiverne in fall 2020, months after she graduated from high school in Orlando, Fla. At the time, she was attending community college, while her family struggled to recover from their layoffs and keep a roof over their heads. Then COVID-19 infected her and her mother, father, and one of her younger brothers.
“It was really scary—it was horrible; I don’t want to ever go through that again,” she said of her own bout with COVID.
“I started throwing up. I just kept spinning; my lungs were all blocked. And I felt so dizzy. I didn’t know what was wrong with me,” said Estiverne.
It’s an experience she shared with many other students in families, especially those who had grown up with poverty. When the EdWeek Research Center surveyed recent low income, high school graduates in the late summer of 2021, 18 percent reported having changed their post-high school plans because they contracted COVID-19. That fate befell far fewer graduates from higher-income households at 5 percent.
Estiverne has severe asthma, which requires her to use a nebulizer. That influenced her choice the previous year to attend Valencia Community College virtually on her Asus computer with unreliable internet, to avoid exposure to the coronavirus rather than attend college in-person.
She also abandoned her plans to actively look for work since most of the jobs she could get are in the service industry, which meant more potential exposure.
“Most jobs that are available for teens and college students are usually jobs where you have to work with customer service, working at Starbucks or Walmart or something like that,” said Estiverne. “And it has to deal with interacting with other people. And I was just, like, terrified about that.”
Aside from studying, Estiverne helps care for her two younger brothers and helps her parents who are not fluent in English; she was the one who called the doctor when her mom started to show symptoms of COVID-19. She’s also very much stuck at home since she still doesn’t have her driver’s license.
Additionally, as Haitian immigrants living in Florida, her family has been saddened about the civil unrest back in Haiti.
Over the last year, the economic stress that weighed on her family has continued.
They weren’t alone. The EdWeek Research Center’s surveys found that 14 percent of the class of 2021 and 18 percent of 2020 graduates had a parent who was laid off or required to take a pay cut during the pandemic.
Estiverne’s parents lost their housekeeping jobs in July 2020 at Rosen Hotels and had to apply for food stamps, an experience matched by 11 percent of the class of 2020 and expanded to 15 percent for 2021 graduates.
After recovering from COVID-19, Estiverne said she feels guilty, “lazy,” and that she could be doing more. She struggled to take five short, intensive monthlong classes last summer semester. Still, she passed them all.
She said she took the full load to help her learn time management “and to get used to the stress of life ‘cause when I— if I—get a realistic job, it’s going to be like that.”
This semester, though, she’s taking three longer-term, slower-paced classes, including statistics, Roman and Greek mythology, and psychology. Psychology has been more than helpful; she enjoys journaling to reflect and, as she puts it, “get the stress out.”
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 27, 2021 edition of Education Week as Layoffs, COVID, Spotty Internet: A Fla. Student Persists in College