SANTA ANA, Calif. — Whether you call it remote learning or virtual learning, the distance that students like Nataly Carino feel from their traditional classrooms is heartbreaking.

"It was really hard because we can't do one at a time," the 9-year-old said. 

What You Need To Know

  • Santa Ana Unified School District created the Learning Labs program to give students access to their teachers and the internet

  • SAUSD also provided Chromebooks and internet hotspots for students

  • Principal Bill Skelly and his team created a list of students they believed needed to be part of the program and called each of their parents for consent

  • One of those students, third-grader Nataly Carino said she prefers being on campus to complete her virtual learning

Nataly is a third-grader at Heninger Elementary School in Santa Ana. She said her mom, who is working from home, had to juggle being a parent and virtual learning for her and her older brother.

"We can't do one at a time, and it had to be the whole day doing homework. Then after that day, you have to do the same thing as other days," Nataly said.

Now, Nataly is back on campus. She's in a Learning Lab in a classroom with 13 other children. Each student sits behind their desk, surrounded by plexiglass, as they complete their virtual education.

Nataly is one of about 40 students that her school principal, Bill Skelly, and his team called.

"This is one small step to help our neediest students," Skelly said. 

The Santa Ana Unified School District created this program to provide students with access to their teachers and classrooms. Skelly said he also prioritized children with special needs, foster youth, English language learners, and kids who are suffering socially and emotionally.

"We ranked all of these things, so we just started calling kids at the top, and if their parents wanted them to come here, we wanted them to be here," Skelly said.

The district has rolled out this program for about 1,200 students at 33 of its schools.

While Skelly said he'd love to bring every student back to campus, safety for all remains his top priority.

Nataly said she typically completes all of her lessons and homework assignments before leaving campus.

Even though she still hasn't met her teacher in person, she's happy to see her friends, even if it's at a distance.

"When I went back to school, it was incredible," she said. "I really like going to school."

Only time will tell when every student can return to their classrooms. Until then, Nataly said she is thankful to be back on the campus she's missed.

For more information about SAUSD's Learning Labs, click here.