For the first two weeks of school, sixth-grader Christopher Rebullosa was attending his online classes from the couch in his living room.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, all local school districts have had to reopen virtually, including John H. Shary Elementary School, where Chistoper and his younger brother, Maximiliano Rebullosa, attend.
The best part of online learning, Christopher said, is that he gets more breaks during the day — which he uses as snack breaks.
However, on top of missing seeing his classmates every day, one of the challenges of the virtual semester has been that sitting on the couch for several hours a day, leaning over to use his laptop which was placed on his living room’s coffee table, has caused his back to hurt.
“It was uncomfortable, I did not get to move much and my back hurted,” Christoper said.
Now, like dozens of Sharyland ISD students, Christopher, Maximiliano and their oldest brother, Luis Angel Rebullosa, have a proper place to do their school work.
The district on Thursday took another step toward transforming homes into classrooms by loaning and delivering more than 70 sets of desks and chairs to students whose residences did not accommodate their study demands before.
Teresa Gonzalez, the district’s federal programs director who oversees parent engagement, said her responsibilities in recent months have dealt with distributing Google Chromebooks, headphones and hotspots. However, parents began to inform her many students likely did not have a proper space to do their school work at home.
So, along with other members of the school district’s administration, Gonzalez said they “put their heads together and thought: ‘We have some furniture to lend out to families; we have a lot of furniture to lend out to families.’”
Eight buses were loaded with desks and chairs Wednesday evening, and the next morning, followed routes to students’ homes to drop off their new study areas.
“We are letting them use the resources they always had available to them when they are at school, now just from their homes,” Gonzalez said.
After reaching out to the district’s campuses, Gonzalez said she was overwhelmed by how great the need for desks and chairs was among Sharyland families. Another round of nearly 70 desk and chair deliveries is set for Tuesday, and the list of requests has continued to grow, she said.
She followed one of the delivering buses Thursday morning and noted that almost all of the children needing the furniture resided in either colonias or mobile homes in rural areas of the city.
“I’ve heard families telling me that they have had kids using their beds, or ther bed night stands,” Gonzalez said. “A night stand is not comfortable because it does not have space for your legs, and it is just not ideal for all kids in one household to be attending classes from their kitchen table… if it’s a family of four kids, everybody is having classes at the same time at some point. So, we knew it was something we needed to help out.”
Isabel Hernandez-Rebullosa, Christopher’s mother, said she had to be strategic about where in their mobile home she was going to place her three sons while they attended their online classes.
Maximiliano, 9, stayed in the kitchen; Christopher, 11, was in the living room; and Luis Angel, 14, worked in the bedroom the three of them share.
Maximilano had to use a makeshift table. His mom laid a piece of wood over a tiny, broken stand so that his laptop could fit atop it. Luis Angel was using a nightstand.
“It was uncomfortable for them,” Isabel said. “I had to manage a way to put them in different areas so they could learn and listen and not get distracted.”
The Rebullosas are migrant workers. They travel to Arkansas and Missouri every summer to harvest cotton, beans, soya and peanuts — but not this year. Because of the pandemic, the family was unable to make the trip, placing them in a financial struggle.
The desks and chairs the district provided have lifted at least some stress the pandemic has put on Isabel. She now knows her sons can attend class comfortably.
The morning the school district dropped off desks for each of her sons, Isabel said they all were excited to start using them.
“They’re happy, they put their books in the bottom cubby right away and started doing their online classes,” she said. “… I feel happy, I am really happy and thankful for the school for providing this for my sons and me.”
Families with students in Sharyland ISD wanting to borrow a desk and chair from the district should reach out to their campus’ administrators.