Almost a year ago on March 13, 2020, Bonita Vista High (BVH) students began distance learning, a format, unlike anything they experienced before. More than that, students have had to cope with the pandemic raging beyond the walls of their homes. However, 30 percent of BVH students faced another challenge as the country was immersed into virtual learning: taking care of family.
“The first word that comes to mind [when reflecting on distance learning] is definitely ‘interesting,’” senior Yesenia Sandez, who cares for her grandmother and aunt, said. “[I’ve been] adjusting to online school with different workloads. My life has been more chaotic.”
Sophomore Kristian Rojas has begun dedicating some of his time to taking care of his youngest sibling. While a cousin used to go over to babysit after his family tested positive for COVID-19, Rojas began to take care of his siblings himself and has continued to do so after recovering.
“My step brother is good on his own. But my sister [is] the one who needs the most help because she’s in first grade,” Rojas said.
Similar to Rojas, Sandez has found new obstacles while staying home, including taking care of her aunt and grandmother, who both have dementia. She is “constantly watching them” to ensure that they are in good health, while simultaneously balancing her schoolwork.
“Since this quarantine and remote learning started, considering my situation with a family member, it’s definitely been stressful,” Sandez said.
Although junior Anahi Marquez-Silva has had a lot of time on her hands since distance learning started, some of the time goes to taking care of her youngest sibling. It is not odd to see Marquez-Silva sitting next to her sister during both of their classes and translating what her sister’s Spanish teacher is saying.
“I have three siblings that are all in school and they’re all varying ages. My brother’s in middle school, my younger sister is in kindergarten and I have a twin sister. [There is] a lot going on at once because we’re all in school at the same time,” Marquez-Silva said.
Another student who helps her younger sister during school hours is senior Alexis Guevara. Guevara had taken on the role of guiding her younger sister, a BVH freshman, through her first year of high school.
“I definitely take a lot of time out of my day to make sure she knows what she’s doing,” Guevara said. “She needs more help than what we need [to] get used to it. I want to make sure she’s always on track and not losing focus.”
These students are just a few living out the new reality that the COVID-19 pandemic and distance learning has created worldwide. Their stories portray how the bonds of family hold up in the most unexpected and uncertain of times.
“It’s difficult knowing that [our time in distance learning] is not the same as what everyone else has experienced,” Guevara said.
Bonita Vista High sophomore Kristian Rojas started distance learning not having to worry about his younger siblings. His younger step brother is in eighth grade and old enough to take care of himself, while an older cousin came over to his house every day to take care of his younger sister, first-grader Abby Rojas.
However, on Christmas day while on their way to his grandparents’ house, K. Rojas’ mom received a call saying that she tested positive for COVID-19. After more than a month of quarantining and under the care of an aunt and uncle, the Rojas family finally tested negative for COVID-19.
After the recovery, however, K. Rojas’ cousin could not go to take care of his little sister. The month passed and Rojas’ cousin still could not take care of the youngest in the family, thus, when the new semester began, Rojas committed to taking care of his little sister.
“We need to help [my sister] with her reading and her writing. In her class, she has to do writing every day. Her teacher gives her a question and I have to make sure she writes it,” K. Rojas said.
His parents work day jobs and are out for most of the day, but his dad occasionally stays home on Fridays. For the most part, K. Rojas takes care of his sister as if he worked a nine to five o’clock shift, finally relaxing when his parents get home.
During synchronous classes, A. Rojas sits in the living room and K. Rojas keeps his room door open just in case she asks him for something or needs help.
“I have seventh period so on Mondays and Wednesdays she’ll be done and I’ll still be in class. Sometimes she’ll be hungry or thirsty. She’s usually able to get most of the stuff by herself but [for] the things that she needs help with I’ll have to tell her to wait until I’m done with class,” K. Rojas said.
One of the positives that have come out of taking care of his little sister, K. Rojas said, is being able to see her grow. Sometimes when they work on math problems together and A. Rojas is able to get the answer on her own, he’ll share a ‘you did it’ moment with her.
Compared to the amount of time that K. Rojas has spent with his sister this semester, before the pandemic their time spent together was considerably shorter. A. Rojas would get out of school earlier than K. Rojas and would be picked up by their grandma. On those days, Rojas wouldn’t see her until his mom picked her up after her five o’clock shift.
“If my cousin is able to help [take care of A. Rojas] then I’ll go [back to school if it reopens] but if my cousins are not able to help then I probably would just stay [home],” K.Rojas said.
To manage his school workload while taking care of his sister, he uses every asynchronous and lunch break that he can to do his assignments. K. Rojas also faces some challenges when it’s time to help A. Rojas with school work. He finds it difficult trying to deal with his little sister whenever she gets upset about doing her work.
“[I struggle] when she starts to cry or when she starts to yell. That’s when it’s frustrating because I can’t calm her down [so] she usually either falls asleep from crying too much or she’ll just stop. I’m doing one thing and she wants me to do another thing but I can’t because I have homework and she doesn’t really understand that,” K.Rojas said.
This was especially difficult for K. Rojas when he transitioned to only watching over her while she does her work. He used to read questions out loud and explain what she needed to do, but lately, he has been trying to get A. Rojas to work by herself, only asking questions when the work is very difficult for her.
“In the beginning, she didn’t want to do [her homework], she would get mad that I wouldn’t tell her what to do and got frustrated when I stopped helping her as much as I did,” K. Rojas said. “She wouldn’t want to do it at all, so that was frustrating, but over time she’s doing the work more and more by herself.”
Rojas mentioned that it was a lot harder to work with A. Rojas because she listens more to their older cousin. He described taking care of her as ‘harder than it looks’ with a sigh. Overall, however, K. Rojas has enjoyed being able to see A. Rojas learn to finish her assignments independently and grow throughout distance learning.
“[I hope] that we’ll be able to go back [to school] because I feel like it will be easier for her to be in-person with a teacher. I’m pretty sure she’s behind because she’s not able to talk to her teacher [since] all the other kids are talking, so being able to go back in person would help her a lot,” K. Rojas said.
“I try to look at the positives: they’re alive, they’re healthy, they’re not dying,” senior Yesenia Sandez reflected. “I always tell myself, ‘don’t take that for granted, because the moment you do, something bad always happens. They’re well, as good as they can be, with dementia. And they’re still here. It’s all you need.’”
Sandez, while attending Bonita Vista High (BVH) during the past year of distance learning, helps her mother care for her grandmother and aunt—both of whom have dementia. Dementia consists of the loss of memory and judgment, deteriorating an individual’s ability to remember and perform basic functions.
For the past eight years, Sandez’s grandmother and aunt have lived with her and her mother, relying on them for care. Since the pandemic, Sandez and her mother have faced many new challenges and stresses. For Sandez, this includes keeping an eye on her grandmother and aunt throughout the school day.
“I’m watching them 24/7. It’s just a habit I’ve grown,” Sandez said. “Before COVID-19, I would watch them but I wouldn’t necessarily care for them. But as I got older [and the pandemic happened], I paid a lot more attention [to them].”
While attending her online classes, Sandez keeps a baby monitor nearby that allows her to watch her aunt and grandmother from another room. At 7:30 a.m., Sandez’s mom leaves the house to work as a behavior specialist for Daly Academy at Ella B. Allen Elementary School.
We’re stuck here. And there’s no way to get out. It feels suffocating”
— senior Yesenia Sandez
When she leaves, Sandez watches her grandmother and aunt until their caregiver arrives at 9:00 a.m. to see to their needs. Additionally, Sandez often takes on the responsibility of making dinner, doing laundry and assisting her aunt and grandmother walk around the house.
“I think that there has been an overwhelming feeling of, ‘wow, this is what has happened to them,’” Sandez said. “They were very social and active. And now, they can’t even do things that they could do a couple [of] years ago.”
In addition to caring for her grandmother and aunt on a daily basis, Sandez has several medical appointments each week to address her broken ankle. When attending essential medical appointments, Sandez is vigilant about sanitizing her hands and wearing double face masks. Given that she lives with two family members at high-risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms, having to go to medical appointments has put added pressure on her.
“If they catch COVID-19, it would be very bad,” Sandez said. “To calm myself mentally [going into the appointments], it’s a matter of thinking positively. [I tell myself], ‘don’t focus on how you might get it, just focus on getting in and out real quick.’ But it’s still scary to think about.”
Often, Sandez’s appointments conflict with those of her grandmother and aunt.
“I don’t want to impose [the stress] on my mom, so there are times I have had to cancel my appointments, so they can go to theirs, which I don’t mind,” Sandez said. “I’ll be like, ‘mine doesn’t matter that much. Take her; she’s a lot older than I am. Obviously, she needs more care.’”
The effects of family members having dementia have been immense for Sandez. With the condition, individuals begin to lose sight of their own identity and become confused with their surroundings. Years ago, Sandez’s grandmother was struck with the condition almost overnight.
“I didn’t even feel like I could say goodbye,” Sandez confessed. “It was just: boom! Gone.”
Sandez remembers a time before her grandmother was unexpectedly diagnosed with dementia. The two of them would go on long walks across the city of Chula Vista. With the worsening of her grandmother’s condition, her grandmother is no longer capable of joining her on those outings.
“I was really close with her,” Sandez recollects. “Seeing her barely being able to walk, it really hit me. She would want to go hiking as much as she could, just explore the city or even go on road trips with just her, my mom and I. Seeing her in a wheelchair was a really big eye-opener for me.”
While balancing schoolwork and taking care of family, Sandez has also struggled with her personal mental health.
“It’s mostly a mental battle,” Sandez said. “It’s mentally draining [to] take care of not just one person, but two [people] who are so far gone. And besides that, my mental health has definitely gotten worse during this pandemic. I’ve never been left alone with my thoughts so completely.”
Maintaining a healthy mindset and motivation continues to be an obstacle for Sandez, but she urges anyone who is struggling to “reach out for help,” since that has assisted her in the past year.
However, looking toward the future has been a source of worry. After high school, Sandez plans to attend Southwestern College. She hopes to complete community college online to remain a resource for her aunt and grandmother, to avoid contracting COVID-19 and passing it to them.
“I have learned that knowing your family is safe, healthy and COVID-19-free is the only thing you ever need,” Sandez said. “I read these articles about people getting evicted from their homes… I’m grateful that I haven’t been affected [in that way]. Just be grateful for what you have, it doesn’t matter if you’re locked inside.”
For eight years, Sandez and her mother have cared for their family members with love and perseverance. Especially given the circumstances of the past year, Sandez has learned to be increasingly grateful.
“Life can change so quickly,” Sandez said. “Take advantage of every moment you have with the people you love. You never know what life can do. In a matter of seconds, something can be ripped away from you.”
“I know my freshman year, it was a big struggle. I thought, ‘I don’t know how to do this, I don’t have anyone to show me the ropes.’ And I got lucky that I had a few older friends to let me know,” senior Alexis Guevara reminisced. “But to have someone full-on, 24/7, helping you, that is what I wish I would have had when I was my sister’s age.”
Guevara is an Advanced Placement student and pitcher on the Bonita Vista High (BVH) girls’ softball team, but she is also an older sister. Through the disorienting months of distance learning, Guevara has taken on the responsibility of helping her sister, freshman Natalie Guevara, navigate her first year of high school from home.
“I definitely want her to do better in school than I did,” A. Guevara said. “So I want to make sure that I’m always there to help her so that she can get better grades and achieve more [than I did].”
Even without the pandemic and distance learning, A. Guevara would still help guide her sister through the first year of high school, although she observes that N. Guevara would likely need less help if students were on campus.
“I’ve always helped her in general if she needed it, but she definitely needed more help this year,” A. Guevara said. “Especially since in high school you’re taking more advanced classes.”
With both parents working, A. Guevara is who N. Guevara goes to for help with schoolwork. During synchronous class periods, A. Guevara spends 10 to 20 minutes answering questions for her sister. After school, the sisters spend anywhere from 10 minutes to hours together on school work.
“There [have] definitely been a couple [of] late nights where we both stayed up late to do homework,” A. Guevara said. “And it’s that struggle of, ‘I want to go to bed, I just want to be done for the day.’ But I also know that she [N. Guevara] has to get her stuff done as well. And if I could help her and let her get some sleep, that’s definitely my priority.”
Guevara appreciates that her teachers do not take up the entire block period with instructional time. This allows her to work with N. Guevara during parts of asynchronous class time and during breaks.
“She knows that she can just come into my room [to ask for help if she needs it] as long as she’s quiet if I’m taking a test. I’ll give her guidance while listening to lectures [in class sometimes],” A. Guevara said. “On those days, I’ll just have one of my friends catch me up on the class.”
For A. Guevara, there are challenges to balancing schoolwork and her role as an older sister. Helping her sister entails finding time for both her and N. Guevara’s work and recalling material from her freshman year. Furthermore, remote learning has pushed A. Guevara to carefully manage her time and review concepts from her first year at BVH.
“If I have an assignment due and she has an assignment due, it’s a battle of what to prioritize, but it usually works out,” A. Guevara said.
Teamwork and patience are two concepts essential to the relationship between A. Guevara and N. Guevara, even if there are some bumps in the road.
“I was helping her on a science assignment,” A. Guevara recounted with a smile. “Apparently, I didn’t help as well as I thought because she came back with a bad grade. And she told me, ‘we got a bad grade on this assignment. We got a bad grade.’”
Seeing as the global COVID-19 pandemic has kept BVH students at home, family life has been greatly impacted. For A. Guevara and N. Guevara, learning from home has allowed for the unique bond between sisters to deepen.
“Online learning, in general, has made it so that my sister and I need to rely on each other,” A. Guevara reflected. “We need to be each other’s company. We need to help each other, whether it’s with the household chores or if it’s with school. She appreciates that I’m there for her and that definitely makes me happier, especially because I’m going to miss her when I go to college. It’s nice to know that she could be comfortable calling me if she needs help in the future.”
Guevara will be attending Brown University next year, playing softball and potentially studying biochemistry. As she plans for her future, her sister’s journey has been an equally important part of her life.
“I know how hard high school is, but I’m almost done. She’s got [three] more years. I just want to be there to help her because I know it’s tough when it’s late at night and you’re trying to finish your work,” A. Guevara said. “Even if I’m really tired, it’s worth helping her. My sister is way smarter than I am. So I’m glad that I can be there for her.”
Bonita Vista High (BVH) Associated Student Body (ASB) Public Relation Commissioner and junior Anahi Marquez-Silva has had an “interesting” experience with distance learning this year, with more time on her hands than ever before. The only things she needs to worry about are school and her three other siblings. Her siblings–Giselle Torres in kindergarten, Alexander Torres in middle school and her twin sister Isabellah Marquez-Silva–are a part of her daily routine at home.
Since the beginning of distance learning, A. Marquez-Silva would occasionally sit with G. Torres in her classes and from time to time check A. Torres’s homework for any errors. For the most part, A. Marquez-Silva’s mom would take care of the youngest sibling and she would only need to step in when her mom was occupied.
A couple of months into distance learning, however, A. Marquez-Silva’s mom and her twin sister tested positive for COVID-19 and quarantined for two weeks in her parents’ room. During those two weeks, A. Marquez-Silva was completely in charge of her younger sister and checked in with A. Torres more often. Until her dad got home from work, A. Marquez-Silva took care of her siblings’ needs.
“It was really hard for me to get any sort of work done. On top of taking care of [my mom], I was home alone with the kids and there was a lot of cleaning. Then, I had to feed my mom because she couldn’t go out,” A. Marquez-Silva said.
During her mom’s quarantine, A. Marquez-Silva based her schedule around G. Torres’; first, A. Marquez-Silva would wake up at seven and prepare G. Torres’ class materials, then she would wake G. Torres up, get her dressed, make her breakfast and log her into class at 8:30 a.m. G. Torres did not have any difficulty with her morning classes so from there A. Marquez-Silva woke A. Torres up and made him breakfast.
“[G. Torres] doesn’t get out until two p.m. and her later classes are Math and Spanish so I do have to physically sit there and participate with her [and] that’s a challenge on its own,” A. Marquez-Silva said.
Marquez-Silva would sit in G. Torres’s classes while also attending her own on the side. There were even days where she would have to completely abandon her classes to help her younger sister with her class or technical difficulties. In those two weeks without her mom, A. Marquez said she was not able to pay attention to any of her classes.
“[I sacrificed] practically all the time that I had because they [her siblings] were always doing something. My sister didn’t get out until three p.m. but by then she wanted lunch and then dinner. It was a lot,” A. Marquez-Silva said. “I really didn’t have that much free time to lounge around or get my own work done.”
Once her mom and twin sister recovered, A. Marquez-Silva was so “overwhelmed and excited” that she did not know what to do. Now that her mom is better and able to take care of her siblings, A. Marquez-Silva only has to worry about them a couple of times a week.
“For the most part [I. Marquez-Silva and I have] the same [class] schedule which is really nice because we pick days to do school together. She’ll come into my room and I have a good enough space for the both of us to be able to do school here, or I’ll go to her room. It makes it easier because we can do homework together and she knows what I’m doing in school and I know what she’s doing,” A. Marquez-Silva said.
While A. Marquez-Silva does not need to take care of her twin sister, they still find ways to hang out together and help each other with schoolwork. A. Marquez-Silva stated that she is really close with her twin, so being separated from I. Marquez-Silva for two weeks was not a pleasant experience.
Even now, A. Marquez still helps her younger siblings with assignments so she feels hesitant to go back to BVH for in-person classes. In the event that being part of the ASB pushes her to go back to school, she explained that she would have to ask permission from her parents to go on certain days and stay home on other days to take care of her little sister.
“[If I were to go to school] I would probably have a lot less on my plate [at home] because I’m not there as often,” A. Marquez-Silva said. “That would be the only difference, whatever I’m doing I’d be doing less of it. I don’t think there would be a shift in new responsibilities or letting go of old ones.”
Marquez-Silva stated that when she attended in-person classes before the pandemic, and if she were to go back soon, she would not have to help her siblings with any of their work. At home, A. Marquez-Silva has a lot more time to finish her assignments and then transition to assisting her siblings. However, if she were to attend school again she described that she would have significantly less time for her own work.
With less on her plate, A. Marquez-Silva works from four p.m. to eight p.m. a couple of days a week as a gymnastics coach at Rockstar Gymnastics. When she is not at work she spends her free time finishing assignments or working for ASB.
“I do have a closer relationship with them [her siblings] as a whole because when I was in school I was always out doing something. Now that I’m home, I do get to spend a lot more time with them on an individual basis,” A. Marquez-Silva said.
Overall, A. Marquez-Silva has experienced being in charge of her siblings and helping them with school. While not an experience she wanted to have, she emphasized how rewarding “pulling her own weight” around the house was.
“The biggest lesson that I learned [from taking care of my siblings] was to not take free time for granted. Before, I had a bunch of time to lounge around and I would complain about not having enough free time. When I actually had none, I realized how much I should’ve appreciated the little time I had to myself,” A. Marquez-Silva said.