The lives of our Rosalie Rendu Center students and other East Palo Alto residents are, of course, complicated by COVID-19.
Thirty percent of Rosalie Rendu Center English as a Second Language students work outside the home, often part-time, in jobs such as babysitters, housekeepers and cashiers. Their husbands work as cooks in hotels and restaurants, and as gardeners and construction workers. Making ends meet has always been challenging.
One of our first Rosalie Rendu Center students works in a key role at East Palo Alto Academy addressing financial and educational challenges posed by COVID-19.
As a Parent Involvement Worker at East Palo Alto Academy, Martha Perez, an Alumna and Advisory Board member of the Rosalie Rendu Center, has a close view of the specific hardships facing members of the East Palo Alto community during the pandemic.
For years, Martha has served as a crucial connection between parents and teachers with the goal of helping students stay on track and perform well in school. But the challenges involved in that goal have multiplied and her role has critical new dimensions to fit the troubling times.
On the phone with parents for most of her working days, Martha has been providing connections to community-based solutions as well as much appreciated emotional support and encouragement.
Distance learning has created educational hurdles for students and under-employment is posing daunting financial challenges for their parents.
Many students started off with inadequate technology and internet connections to learn via Zoom, for example.
“Students often don’t have the Internet, so they borrowed hot spots but then we heard complaints that their connection is slow or doesn’t work,” Martha reported.
“Parents are often not at home to supervise; the children struggle and might finally make the Zoom connection ten minutes late. The kids get so frustrated. ‘The teacher didn’t see me; didn’t let me into the class,’ they say.” Martha has helped solve the issue by directing them to a program that provides affordable internet service.
Financial problems for parents during this pandemic are as daunting as the academic challenges for children.
“Parents sometimes can’t pay for groceries, phone bills and rent; and some of the students told me they’re so stressed out that they can’t even sleep,” Martha said.
To help prevent families from losing their homes, Martha advises parents of the California Moratorium on Evictions; often guiding them to pay at least 25% of their rent when they can. She also advises them of where to find free or affordable legal aid.
Addressing the difficulty of shrinking budgets for food, Martha points parents to resources such as the Boys & Girls Club which provides free dinner every night and groceries twice a week.
“It was very difficult for the families early on in the pandemic, when parents lost jobs and couldn’t afford food or rent. That’s when the idea of the Bulldog Buzz Cut challenge came up,” Martha reported.
Participating members at East Palo Alto Academy were willing to dye their hair or have their heads shaved in the process of competing on teams to raise funds. The Buzz Cut Challenge was a great success.
It was great fun for teachers, staff and students; and provided both much needed levity and grants for needed expenses. Martha said, “I believe we raised $100,000 for the families!”
You can learn more about Martha’s critical role in the lives of parents, teachers and students at East Palo Alto Academy in our upcoming newsletter. If you’re not signed up to receive the Rosalie Rendu Center bi-annual newsletter, please visit our contact page and send us your mailing address!