LOS ANGELES — Many students returning to in-person learning this year did so with learning loss and serious mental health declines. But beyond that, there are low-income communities within the Los Angeles Unified School District suffering disproportionate financial impacts of COVID-19.
One family found themselves sleeping in their car, in a back shed and in motels, but somehow they remained positive, even hiding their situation from most until one LAUSD principal saw the signs.
When you're 3 years old, life is simple. Amor loves watching cartoons on her tablet, calls her mother, Antoinnyca Daniels, her best friend and since it's nap time, she gets testy like any other toddler.
Daniels straps Amor into her car seat, hoping the drive to pick up her brother, Aiden, from school will put her to sleep.
It usually does because, for months, this was the only bed Amor had.
Up until several weeks ago, Daniels said they've been homeless, sleeping in the car, motels and a shed for about a year.
But no one knew. She'd find showers for homeless people and would keep the kids and herself very busy, working odd jobs and volunteering at Aiden's school in Watts.
"I was just volunteering everywhere to keep busy to not think about the situation that we're in and then keep the kids involved," Daniels said.
"Mommy!" Aiden exclaimed as Daniels picked him up from school.
It's a heartbreaking reality that the principal of Compton Avenue Elementary Steam Academy, Lashon Sanford, said happens far more than expected.
Students like Aiden are just trying to focus on what he calls "edumucation."
But 99% of the 300 students at Sanford's school are considered low income and receive free meals. Of the students, 5% are foster youth, and 12 have reported experiencing homelessness.
"When you have to make the decision on prioritizing basic needs, there is a need then for others to pour into your life," Sanford said.
It's why they have several crucial partnerships with organizations like the Los Angeles Mission and Guardians of Love that offer families gift cards for groceries, school supplies and even computers.
Days later, after calling LA Mission, Daniels and the kids were moving into temporary shared housing for women and children as they got back on their feet.
"Her son ran up to me on the school yard and said, 'Mrs. Sanford! My new house is so big, thank you so much!' My heart dropped," Sanford said.
Beyond that, Sanford also was able to give Daniels a job as a campus aid, calling it a win/win after losing staff due to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
It's been more support than Daniels has received in years, going back to the one person who did help her out to tell him the news.
"Right over here is where we slept," Daniels pointed to a back shed.
David Dunson said he doesn't have much to give but was able to offer his back shed for them to sleep in. Now being back there brings Daniels to tears.
"You just have to stay in good spirits through it all, you can't really let it break you down," she said.
Daniels said she thanks God for the answered prayers, and even though Aiden and Amor may not fully understand, they are smiling a lot brighter these days.
LAUSD has resources for students experiencing homelessness. For more information, visit the Homeless Education Office's website.