Last March. Arianne Allan, a mother of two living in a Brooklyn homeless shelter, was obscure. She fought coronavirus in a small shelter for a whole month. It was not possible to keep a distance from son and daughter, and they both became ill as well.
As soon as the family recovered, Ms. Allan went on a mission that was still unfinished five months later: to make sure her children could learn. It took weeks for her son and daughter, then in third and twelfth grades, to receive an iPad from the Education Department. By the time they were able to start distance learning, schools were a few weeks behind.
After Mr Allan’s family was forced to move to another shelter this summer, a new problem arose. There is no wireless internet in the shelter and almost no mobile services, so Ms. Allan had to dive into the money she earned as a housekeeper to pay for an unreliable wireless public internet access point.
“I will not miss the opportunity when it comes to educating my children,” Ms Allan said. But just a week after the city’s school year, she’s still not sure if her son will be able to study remotely on days when he’s in a shelter. This year’s New York students will attend school in person one to three days a week and study at home for the rest of the time.
New York’s unplanned distance learning experiment was devastating for many of the city’s 1.1 million students. But it was particularly catastrophic for the approximately 114 000 homeless students, who rely on school buildings for nutrition, physical and mental health services, and stability.
Homeless families and activists say the city has not done enough to prepare the hardest hit children for the coming school year.
Now this has been done by Mayor Bill de Blasio postponed the start of the school year until September 21. the city should take the time to deal with homeless students, said Christine Quinn, who runs the local family homeless shelter network Win.
“The city has a chance to fix the course,” she said. “We have one chance to get this right for the most vulnerable students. Let’s not waste it. “
When the city’s schools unexpectedly closed their windows in March, the country’s largest school system had to collapse to move education online. Discrepancies in distance learning Delays in receiving devices for vulnerable children were inevitable.
But now, almost half a year later, some homeless children are still trying to join remote classes using the city’s free iPads. Some families are still waiting for information on whether their children will be able to take advantage of city-funded day-care childcare days.
While homeless students in the city will have priority over childcare chairs, charter students, of whom approximately 11,000 are homeless, will not be able to participate in the program. And experts say the city should give priority to homeless students if they want them to teach full-time, in person.
“We are very concerned that students have spent several months with little learning and that the loss of learning will only continue if the city does not increase,” said Randi Levine, a lawyer for New York’s child advocates at the research and legal group. “Homeless students feel like we’re in a similar place to where we were in the spring.”
City Representative Avery Cohen defended Mr. De Blas problem.
“In preparation for the fall, we are fully committed to helping our most vulnerable students succeed,” she said.
Ms Cohen said the city had solved connectivity issues by sending specialists from the Department of Education to help families, noting that all iPads have unlimited data and work for many families.
She also noted that the city has recently developed bus routes for homeless students, which is a matter of great concern. Most homeless children have a legal right to transportation and sometimes live in shelters in schools.
For many years, the city struggled to accept its homeless students, which has grown by 70% in the last decade. However, the pandemic has hurt families in recent times.
For example, although p. The De Blas administration has added several social workers dedicated solely to serving homeless children, homeless activists say they need much more. However, the city’s economic crisis has led to the recruitment of agencies.
About a third of homeless students in New York live in shelters, and the rest live in “double” precarious housing, often with family or friends who change frequently.
Both housing situations pose enormous challenges for the coming school year, when urban students tend to learn from home if they do not choose full-time distance learning. Families living in cramped apartments do not have access to social workers and shelter workers who can solve the problems of city officials.
Many city shelters do not have Wi-Fi access. according to a recent report by the New York Bar Association, and many shelters do not even have mobile services, making it impossible for families to access hotspots.
This is one of the important reasons why Ms. Allan is very eager for her son to return to class, despite prolonged safety concerns.
“Distance learning didn’t suit me,” she said, adding that she would be “very disappointed” if schools didn’t open physically.
In interviews, homeless families planning to return children to classes said their choice is not in favor of Mr de Blasio’s plan, but more reflects their need to send children to school so they can work.
Win Ms Quinn said she had spoken to many shelter mothers in recent weeks. “They think this plan is not enough, but they do not have the opportunity to work remotely or spend time with their boss for virtual learning,” she said. “They kind of have to come back, even if they don’t want to.”
Homeless advocate Ms Quinn and Ms Levine argued that the city should train additional social workers to help homeless children navigate remotely and should develop more technical support for parents trying to reach their children online.
That would be a huge help to parents like Christlie Jean-Baptiste, who relies on public Wi-Fi kiosks near a Manhattan shelter where she lives with two children.
The service is always broken and is practically non-existent in bad weather. This prevented Ms Jean-Baptiste from joining some of her community college courses and forcing her 9-year-old daughter to join distance learning at her charter school, which had already started online courses.
Sometimes Ms. Jean-Baptiste stands at the nearest LinkNYC kiosk with her daughter in town holding an iPad in her hand and tries to connect to the Internet. She said the iPad’s security settings make it nearly impossible to load new apps.
“We seem to go unnoticed,” Ms Jean-Baptiste said of the families in the shelters.
She said her daughter was so desperate that she didn’t see her friends that she sometimes didn’t want to get out of bed to join online classes. Ms Jean-Baptiste said she believed the schools would open as soon as possible, although her daughter’s charter recently announced she would stay aside until winter.
Like so many families across New York, Ms. Jean-Baptiste said she still had questions about security, and regretted that the mayor’s daily press conferences rarely provided her with the information she was looking for about schools.
The decision to return to school was presented by the city’s parents with a deep riddle with some good options. However, the choice between hybrid and distance learning is particularly important for families whose opportunities are almost endless.
Crystal Berroa, a mother of three living in a shelter, said distance learning was a failure: her daughter was still learning to read in her kindergarten class when schools suddenly closed their windows, and it took her three weeks to get an iPad.
Now Ms Berroa is worried that her daughter will fall even further behind in reading. She sees all the children, even on the playground, turn inward and become more antisocial.
The Wi-Fi in her shelter is barely working, and it seems that every day there are new problems with the iPads released by the city. In addition, Ms. Berroa has to handle cooking, cleaning and childcare as one of the parents.
“We can only do so much and we still have common sense,” she said.
These factors may seem to skew her decision to return her children back to class. However, one of them has asthma and is worried that their return to school would be like a “science experiment”. So they refuse to study in person, and she leaves them to her mother for a day so she can go to the front desk.
It was a frustrating choice.
“Right now,” she said, “who really knows what’s best?