Sandra Padilla, a sophomore at De La Salle North, studies Semana Santa in Venezuela for her Spanish Heritage class.
Sandra Padilla, a sophomore at De La Salle North, studies Semana Santa in Venezuela for her Spanish Heritage class.

ALOHA — Gabriela Pérez was accustomed to taking care of five children and working full time. But things became more challenging and complicated amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Schools were closed through the rest of the term, thrusting teachers, students and parents into a different learning environment — whether they were prepared or not.

“The impact has been huge,” Pérez said, explaining that her children’s public school lent Chromebooks to students who had to take leadership of their learning.

“One of the most difficult situations is that my daughter couldn’t have the graduation ceremony we wanted after 12 years of hard work,” Pérez said. “We needed to confront many barriers; language, and the school’s contradictions related to our faith. Despite all the difficulties, I found the teachers to be extra supportive. They phoned and emailed often.”

Pérez said she feels fortunate to belong to Young Adults for Christ, a group at St. Anne Elizabeth Seton Parish here.  

“Seeking faith keeps both me and my family strong,” she said.

The change from school site instruction to at home learning was unknown territory for many families and it presented barriers for some.

“There are many factors affecting our Hispanic and Latino students,” said Alma Isla, a teacher at Bridgeport Elementary School in Tualatin.

“The district provided hotspots and loaner tablets to students yet many families shared that there is not reliable internet connection where they live.”

According to the 2018 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census, more than 51,000 Hispanic families in Oregon do not have internet subscriptions and almost 30,000 have no computer.

In addition, “Hispanic families need to keep working,” said Isla. “A majority provide essential services and they are unable to stay at home to help their children.”

Karla Vásquez, a member of St. Anthony Church in Tigard, said that her seventh grade son felt disconnected from his public school during the spring. She observed deficits in his knowledge of content and sensed he received limited support.

“We were adapting to a system different from our experience, and we had minimal understanding of its workings,” Vásquez said. “From my community at church, I know parents who work in the fields every day for 12 hours and when they return are exhausted. In addition, they have limited computer literacy.”

Private schools managed a distance learning transition ahead of public schools — some just days after closures were announced.

“We provided multiple supports for families and students,” said Pam Wood, a counselor at De La Salle North Catholic High School in Portland. “We posted recordings of online classes and offered students a Pass grade option to complete a course. Our bilingual counselor hosted video meetings with families to provide crucial information about senior graduation” among other topics.

“The Class of 2020 is suffering grief and loss from losing their graduation ceremonies, an important rite of passage for students,” Wood added. 

Brenda Cruz Jaimes, another De La Salle North counselor, expressed further challenges seniors faced, such as “demands to generate income while balancing school, caring for sick relatives, navigating the transition into college and the pressure of online learning.”

“It has been a learning experience for all of us,” said Jair Lázaro, father of a De La Salle senior. However, “this pandemic has uncovered many factors affecting the family cell. I think it is an opportunity for parents to refer back to their natural responsibility as primary teachers of their children.”

At St. Andrew Nativity School, “teachers and the majority of students adjusted well,” said Sarah O’Brien, database and grant specialist. “The majority of students were engaged in learning opportunities and virtual meetings every day, including video lessons with their teachers and classmates, enrichment classes, counseling meetups, assemblies, and advisory groups,” she explained.

“Teachers and staff prioritized mental health and basic needs for students and families, and the Graduate Support department was doing case management with our graduates,” O’Brien added.

“This has been a time with challenges and struggles for many people, but also a time of faith and transformation,” said Jeannie Ray-Timoney, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Portland. “I am confident that together we will face the present challenges and those ahead as we plan for the fall with wisdom and grace.”