SANTA ANA, Calif. — At 18 years old, Krystal Soberanis isn't just the oldest child in her family. She's, in many ways, a third parent.

"I had to make sure that we were OK. I had to make sure that my siblings came first, even at my own expense," Soberanis said. 

What You Need To Know

  • The Garden Grove Unified School District is aware of the exacerbated mental health challenges that COVID-19 created and that will be present post-pandemic

  • Many students, especially older teens, within the district took on the role of being the third parent during the pandemic

  • Krystal Soberanis, a recent graduate from Los Amigos High School, took on a full-time job during her senior year as she navigated her last year of high school and helped her younger siblings with their online lessons

  • Marissa De Leon, a school social worker with the district, says she and her colleagues checked in with students who sought assistance from the school while they were in summer break

The oldest sibling clocks in more than 30 hours a week at McDonald's to help her parents make ends meet. Her mom is a homemaker, and her dad is a landscaper. 

"I realized they were counting every penny as they went, and I wanted to make sure that that wasn't the case," Soberanis said.

At home, Soberanis juggled her senior year of high school and helped her little brother and 10-year-old sister with their online classes in their small apartment.

"Their rooms, living rooms or couches became school to them. Their home wasn't their safe haven anymore. It was a place where all of their lives collided," Soberanis said.

The Soberanis siblings attend schools in the Garden Grove Unified School District, which is seeing more students turning to it for mental, social and emotional help during the pandemic.

Marissa De Leon is a school social worker assigned to five different campuses, including Los Amigos High School, where Soberanis graduated two months ago.

"I can't tell you how many of our students, especially older teens, have responsibilities like a parent in their home. And it's no fault to their family, but it's just them trying to do the best they can to fill a role," De Leon said.

De Leon said she grew up in Los Angeles. She decided to pursue this field because she wanted to be someone she and her friends needed when they were young students navigating education.

De Leon said students are coming to her and her colleagues to speak about the loss and grief for loved ones and the sense of normalcy school provided. It's where they made friends, got guaranteed meals and could speak directly to teachers if they needed help.

"The loss of routine. The sense of stability that school gives, I think there's been just a lot disconnection," De Leon said.  

The district received a one-time Extended Learning Opportunity grant for the 2021-22 school year, which will be used to increase mental health supports at its schools, provided through GGUSD's own mental health staff and its community partner agencies.

The district is planning to hire a psychologist who will work on special assignments to provide critical leadership on innovative strategies that schools can use to support the wellness of all students. In addition to that position, the district plans to hire four new school psychologists to bring its total to 45 psychologists. It also plans on selecting additional mental health interns to join its team.

Soberanis is heading to California State University, Fullerton, in a few days. The eldest daughter chose to attend a commuter school to cut down on costs and stay close to her family if they need help. 

She's thankful her siblings are going back to school this week.

"It's giving me a sense of hope," Soberanis said.

For more information on the district's Choose Wellness Campaign, visit the school district's website.