By Artie Padilla, Senior Program Officer

 Local families share COVID’s impact on learning

Learning challenges brought on by COVID:

Families with school-aged children share their perspective

The Fresno DRIVE Initiative is a 10-year investment plan to develop an inclusive, vibrant, and sustainable economy for residents in the greater Fresno region. One of the essential components of fostering inclusive and sustainable economic growth is neighborhood development.

Census data identifies 32 Fresno neighborhoods impacted by concentrated poverty over the decades. One of these neighborhoods is centered around Susan B. Anthony Elementary School.

This June, at the end of the 20/21 school year, I was involved with a celebration at Susan B. Anthony Elementary School, hosted by Every Neighborhood Partnership and The Well Community Church. I’ve personally served on the school’s campus and in its neighborhood since 2002, and over the years I’ve become woven into the fabric of the neighborhood—growing to know many of the kids and parents by name.

Leading into the gathering, I didn’t intend to facilitate formal conversations with our guests, but once I noticed the growing attendance after the first hour, I decided to launch into some “learning conversations” with both the kids and parents. I felt this gathering offered an excellent opportunity for families and kids to talk about their experiences after being mostly isolated. I knew they could support one another through conversations, and I was curious to learn from their stories.  So, I decided to facilitate a type of impromptu, casual focus group.

Given the diversity of the parents, I divided them into Spanish- and English-speaking subgroups. The first thing I noticed was that both groups were very open to dialogue. I suspect this was the first time they had been in a community conversation since the pandemic started.

Key takeaways from my conversations included:

Conversations with Parents:
  • Most were pretty disoriented when school was suddenly closed in March of 2020. Though the school district tried to communicate as well as it could, it didn’t seem to reach many of the parents. Then the shift to virtual learning was a real learning curve for the parents—it was more than they felt they could handle. But in time, as district processes improved and they lived it out, most expressed comfort in navigating the new process.
  • As most would guess, financially the families are still reeling from having to navigate kids constantly at home, and the impact of COVID on businesses and the economy. They are feeling the pinch from increased costs on all fronts. The undocumented residents seemed to be hit hardest. They, of course, didn’t receive stimulus checks, and many didn’t know about the state’s funding for undocumented families. Some were aware of it but didn’t trust the system enough to take advantage of it. Over 75% said they were behind on rent. Many were worried about the looming end of the eviction moratorium in September. All said they were in a worse financial situation than before the pandemic began.
  • Half of the families said they were vaccinated. I shared facts and data with them. Many have just heard too many stories from family and friends that getting the vaccine is risky. It was good to observe those that had gotten the vaccine shared their experience illustrating that it is safe, and they didn’t have any major side effects. I think that went a long way versus them hearing it on TV or on the radio.
Conversations with Kids
  • The conversation with the kids showed how much grit they possess. I think it also opened their eyes that school actually isn’t that bad after all. They missed their friends. They realize now they really don’t want to stay home all day long. (I wonder if attendance rates will show some improvement in the future? Time will tell.)
  • However, the social-emotional toll on these kids is evident. Things at home are challenging. The financial stresses for parents have caused issues at home. I heard several stories of parent separations, having to move and other disruptions. Some kids said they felt disconnected. Though they could communicate through social media or phone with their friends, they missed the face-to-face relationships school allows for.

Though this is just a short snapshot of all that I heard in my conversations, it shows the value that a healthy family dynamic can have on families. It also displays how vibrant neighborhoods and schools play an important role in our community’s ability to thrive.

This is why I’m glad I get to play a part in Fresno DRIVE’s Neighborhood Development portfolio. I have the opportunity to assist our local organizations in creating a strong Civic Infrastructure, flourishing Opportunity Corridors, a revitalized Downtown, and a continual increase in permanent affordable housing.

This, along with our Human Capital and Economic Development initiatives, will bring about transformation in our community so future conversations like these will reflect vibrant neighborhoods with prosperous communities and thriving families.