Destination Education: Groups stepping up to help students in need during pandemic

The new school year brings a return to students in the classroom in Southern California, but some families are struggling more than others to get an education and community groups and non-profit organizations are stepping in to help.

"Some days I felt like mother of the year and others days I felt like I was tapping out," said mother of two, Danielle Gandy.

She credits the organization Cadre in South LA with helping her navigate the stresses of online schooling and parenting during the pandemic. She said they helped her get a WiFi hotspot even gave her gift cards.

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"Unfortunately, I was one of the parents who lost income, and to have a gift card to pay a bill or two definitely helped," said Gandy.

Cadre, which empowers parents to advocate for their children’s education, pivoted during the pandemic to help provide mental health support, even giving parents guidance on how to use learning apps.

The group is aiding parents in a community filled with low-wage essential workers.

Gandy was able to work from home during the pandemic, but said that other parents in her 7-year-old daughter’s class didn’t have that luxury.

She says only about 18 students out of the class of about 26 logged in regularly.

"I questioned what was going on with the other students," she said. 

She believes many students had tech issues and no parent there to help them.

There’s no question the pandemic magnified the already existing inequities, but throughout it all, non-profits have scrambled to bridge the gaps.

At ScholarMatch in Boyle Heights, college pennants line the wall. Universities Like UC Berkeley, each pennant represents a first-generation college student with a median household income of $28,000 a year.

The organization, which gives scholarships, also gave out $80,000 in emergency funds during the pandemic to help students in college, the sums ranged from $100 for a hotspot to $1,000 to help pay the rent.

"We had students whose family got Covid and they couldn't work," said Francisco Prado, who was a college advisor for ScholarMatch.  

He said that often students are left wondering how they were going to feed their families or pay their landlord. He says one emergency can prevent a student from finishing college and from breaking the cycle of poverty.

"We know once a student starts working full-time, it’s less likely they will come back," said ScholarMatch Executive Director Karla Salazar. 

She says that’s why her organization provides assistance so they won’t have to take a second job and give up on their education. 

She worries about the drop in college enrollment during the pandemic, especially among those from low-income households.

The organization is now trying to find ways to get them back in school and bracing for what the pandemic brings next.

"That’s the billion-dollar question," Salazar said, adding the impact of the pandemic is ongoing.