When asked how life has been for her and her family since the pandemic started, Leticia Hernandez answered, “muy difícil” (very difficult).
Hernandez’s husband lost his job. Her daughter has special needs, and her condition worsened as well. Along with the job loss, the family also lost their health insurance.
“It was very hard to have that level of uncertainty,” Hernandez said in Spanish.
Hernandez’s daughter attends Aspire Lionel Wilson Prep. Recently, Hernandez’s family received $500 from the Aspire Relief Fund. Aspire Public Schools has distributed more than $400,000 over the past year to scholars’ families to support them with food and other basic necessities. Over 1,200 families like the Hernandez family, from each of Aspire’s 38 public schools across California, have received up to $500.
“This shows that they think about their families, they worry and take care of their students,” Hernandez said in Spanish. “And that’s what schools should do, not just worry about kids but their families. And that’s what our school is doing.”
Cristina Gurrola is the Dean of Students at Aspire Lionel Wilson Prep. As the administrator with the most recent teaching experience (she taught at the school two years ago), Gurrola maintains relationships with families.
Gurrola said she is especially tight with the parents of her most recent 8th grade class, which includes Hernandez’s daughter. “They would help in the classroom, bring materials when we ran out,” Gurrola said.
The father of Gurrola’s child is a baker, and when the pandemic hit she reached out to families to see if anyone wanted extra boxes of baked goods. “That kind of started this conversation about who was in need,” Gurrola said.
The school staff then started to survey families to get a better understanding of who was in need. Some families took longer than others to come forward. “There is a stigma in our community around asking for help,” Gurrola said.
Gurrola started by pitching in from her own pockets to buy groceries for families before other administrators joined, followed by Aspire launching the relief fund. “I was lucky enough to get a stimulus check,” she said. “So I would just go buy groceries for families and send them to them.”
Gurrola said making sure the needs of families are met is essential to educating their children.
“When we have students in school, we feed them, we give them mental health services if they need them, we check in with them, we give them services to make sure that their entire self is okay,” Gurrola said, “not just the part that is producing work for teachers.
“And then this was just a different way to do that, since we were not able to serve them in front of us in person.”