From sleepless nights to working double shifts, high school students have been taking extra work to support their families during the pandemic.
Seventeen-year-old Stephanie Contreras-Reyes, a senior at Orthopaedic Hospital Medical Magnet High School, is one of those students.
Los Angeles Times staff writer Laura Newberry wrote about the increasing number of teens who have taken on more work to help their families stay afloat. Newberry and Stephanie joined Spectrum News 1 anchor Lisa McRee on LA Times Today with more.
Newberry decided to tell this story because she wants to raise awareness of how the pandemic impacts working-class students.
“I think we all know that the pandemic has been particularly hard for kids and teens. They have had difficulty adjusting to distance learning, not seeing their friends, and not being in a social environment. But students who have to take on extra work to help their families are just one of the many ways working-class students are disproportionately impacted. So I really see this as not only a story about mental health and the difficulties of daily life during the pandemic, but also as an issue of equity,” said Newberry.
Their parents lost their jobs because of the pandemic. So during their final months of high school, they're working 20, 30 -- sometimes 40 hours a week or more, all while applying to college, distance learning & caring for their siblings.— Laura Newberry (@LauraMNewberry) February 5, 2021
Stephanie continues to keep up with her schoolwork, extracurricular activities, helping out with her siblings, and working in an embroidery. As the oldest sibling, she knew she would eventually take on financial responsibilities to help her family.
"When my dad lost his job in March, and him being the only sole provider for our family of six, I knew I had to step in," said Stephanie. "I am the only one in my family who speaks English fluently and has gone this far in high school. So, I definitely felt that sense of responsibility to take that extra set of responsibility and work to provide income for my family and support them. I saw that my mom was struggling with paying bills, and I wanted to alleviate that stress from her."
Teachers and counselors have helped Stephanie through this challenging time.
“At the start of the pandemic, I was just focused on helping my family survive while managing AP classes, college classes, my extracurricular, and doing as much as I can at home. In the summer, I began having anxiety attacks because of all the pressure and long days that I would sustain. At the beginning of the semester, I began reaching out to teachers and they were ready to help out. They took the time to talk to me during office hours, and my theater teacher came to my house and provided my family with groceries. She talked me through it and said she believed in me and my success. I am really thankful for her and those who have shown love for my family," Stephanie continued.
Teachers and counselors found out students are taking on more responsibilities because underage students apply for a work permit or stop showing up for class.
"I think teachers are doing their best to accommodate these students and work with them after hours to make sure that they can get their work in," said Newberry. "And if they cannot, they will give them extended deadlines. I think that, for the most part, teachers and counselors are pretty compassionate. But what is remarkable about Stephanie is that she is still going to class, she’s still getting her work in, and I feel honored to tell her story."
Being a working-class student is a reality for many low-income communities.
"I have a friend who recently had a family member pass away, and they were so essential to their family living that they had to move far away," said Stephanie." If the school were not in a virtual setting, they would have also moved schools. I see other friends who text me in the middle of class, saying they are at work and asking me if I could catch them up on school work. I agree to help them because I completely understand what they are going through. Even though their Zoom screen pops up in our class, I know that behind the screen, they are doing a lot more for their families."