Schooling together
Suri Ayala, center, and Reynaldo Torres, left, attend their distanced-learning classes at Cunha Intermediate School on Monday. The sessions are hosted by the Boys and Girls Club of the Coastside. Adam Pardee / Review

Fatima Santos was already nervous to start the sixth grade, and the idea of remote learning made it even worse. But after her first day at the Boys and Girls Club of the Coastside’s supervised remote learning program with her sister Suri, she knew this year would be a success.

“At home, it was just us and we already know each other and I was really sad the whole time,” Santos said. “But here, you get to meet new people. The whole classroom is so fun.”

After state and county health rules shut down classrooms for the start of the school year, it seemed that in-person school might be a thing of the past. But some Coastside kids like Fatima are getting the closest thing to it.

The Boys and Girls Club of the Coastside is going on its third week of hosting Cabrillo Unified School District students for remote learning at Cunha Intermediate School and Half Moon Bay High School. On Monday, the four rooms in use were silent as students worked, headphones on and focused in on their school-issued Chromebooks. A few were doing jumping jacks and pushups outside for P.E. class.

BGCC Executive Director Jill Jacobson said the program has been a success so far, with students assigned to static pods of seven coming to set classrooms on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Once there, they complete their schoolwork in a quiet, supervised space. At $115 per month with financial aid available, it’s an affordable option for many families during the pandemic.

When the students arrive, they fill out a questionnaire and gets their temperature checked. They are required to wear a mask while in the program, stay at least six feet away from other students and staff, and to wash their hands or use sanitizer regularly. The students also have access to materials like textbooks, paper, printers, snacks and water onsite. Cunha Site Manager Sandra Sarabia hosted meetings with each family to go over the COVID-19 protocols before opening, and she and Jacobson said the students have been very good about abiding by the rules.

“These kids have been amazingly well-behaved,” Jacobson said. “People understand the risk and that it needs to be taken seriously.”

Rosalva Mendez, Fatima's mom, doesn't have consistent Wi-Fi at home and had few other places to turn for support for her kids that were affordable. Mendez was confident that her daughters could complete their school work remotely, but said she couldn't find a place that would host them safely.

"To be successful in school, they just need the right tools because they're so intelligent," Mendez said in Spanish.

Fatima and Suri have been through extremely tough times, including the recent death of their father, so Mendez wanted to be sure they had the social, emotional and educational support they needed this fall.

“When you have problems, they will help you solve them,” Suri Ayala said. “When my dad passed away, Sandra helped me out.”

The 28 students spread among four classrooms at Cunha mostly live where internet access isn’t reliable, Jacobson said. BGCC is also running classrooms out of Half Moon Bay High School, and Jacoson said she’s hoping to expand the program to serve more students who need supervised help. She’s also looking into how staff can begin to help students with homework in a more structured way. Jacobson said the program has given her and the families a sneak peek into what a full return might look like, but said it’s not academics or mask-wearing she’s worried about.

“We’ve realized how hard it’s going to be,” Jacobson said. “I think breaks and going in and out of classrooms will be the biggest challenge.””

Cunha parent Beatriz Barron said that although she is very afraid of the COVID-19 virus, she decided that sending her two kids James and Katherine to in-person school at the Boys and Girls Club was worth it for many reasons. In addition to internet problems, both she and her husband have to work and didn't want to leave their two young kids at home by themselves. It's also benefited her kids socially.

"They need to interact with people,” Barron said in Spanish. “If they are alone at home, I believe that it's stressful. If they have questions, they need to be able to connect with help."

Without this option, Barron said, she and her husband would have few other places to turn — they could hire a tutor or join a pod of families, but neither would have been financially feasible.

"I understand that it is not totally safe, but it is much more beneficial to be here than to be at home, which is not an appropriate place for a kid to be studying,” Barron said.

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