Skip to main content
https://www.gannett-cdn.com/presto/2021/04/02/PWES/6059ccde-b481-4b1f-98e5-47b14c61c113-ts032521santiagofamily02.JPG
Subscriber Exclusive Learning Curve

For Santiago children, learning remotely, spring brings light at the end of the tunnel

Published Updated
Published Updated

Note: This story is part of the fourth installment of Learning Curve, a yearlong series of stories following a group of families whose children are attending public schools across New York state during the pandemic. Start from the beginning here.

For five minutes near the end of the school day, Bryan Santiago got to do something that eluded him for much of the pandemic: Say hello to a friend at school. 

After a year of online learning, Bryan went to the media center at the Mount Vernon STEAM Academy to get maintenance on his laptop and bumped into a classmate. 

With only a few pleasantries exchanged, the conversation was awkward, Bryan admits, but at least "we saw each other outside right now."

It was nice seeing their face in person, not just on the screen, he said. But it’s sad, he said, because he'd only seen that one friend all that time and only to get his technology fixed.

Santiago siblings reflect on remote learning
Bryan Santiago, a junior at Mount Vernon Steam Academy, and his sister Julia, a fifth-grader at the Columbus School, reflect on a year of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, March 25, 2021.
Tania Savayan, Rockland/Westchester Journal News

The encounter stood out in a school year that has otherwise been a blur for him, hours slipping into days, days into months, as he and his sister, Julia, continue online learning in Mount Vernon schools because of the pandemic. 

Like many of his classmates, Bryan says, he’s still struggling. 

His grade point average is going to dip and math has been hard this year, but he says he's going to keep striving in hopes that the circumstances will change and life will go back to normal. 

“I’m still resilient, still trying my best, just as I've been like through the whole pandemic,” he said.

Spring is in the air; hope, too

The signs of a spring awakening are surrounding the entire Santiago family as vaccines become more accessible. At Hartley Park, where the family met us, masked children cruised through tree-shaded pathways. Music from a nearby ice cream truck floated between the sounds of children on the playground and competition from the basketball court. 

That was a far cry from the scene last spring of the emptied basketball courts as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in New York. Around that time, the family of four decided to keep Bryan and Julia home from school until they could be vaccinated. 

Jose and Norma Santiago with their children, Bryan, a junior at Mount Vernon Steam Academy, and Julia, a fifth-grader at Columbus School, at Hartley Park in Mount Vernon March 25, 2021. The siblings have been in remote-schooling since March 2020.
Jose and Norma Santiago with their children, Bryan, a junior at Mount Vernon Steam Academy, and Julia, a fifth-grader at Columbus School, at Hartley Park... Jose and Norma Santiago with their children, Bryan, a junior at Mount Vernon Steam Academy, and Julia, a fifth-grader at Columbus School, at Hartley Park in Mount Vernon March 25, 2021. The siblings have been in remote-schooling since March 2020.
Tania Savayan/The Journal News

And nearly a year later, the family is moving with the times as the world starts to resemble what it had been before the pandemic.

The Santiagos have started taking trips to a new vacation home in Rochester to get outside more. Norma, the family's matriarch, has already been vaccinated because she is a nurse. All but Julia, 11, can get vaccinated in New York. 

Still, online learning is continuing, and it has been a mixed bag for Julia. The 11-year-old says she likes getting less homework but doesn’t feel as comfortable asking questions as she did when she was in school.

When reading a story in class, Julia says, the teacher will sometimes go to the next section without answering her or her classmates' questions. 

At those moments, she feels frustrated because she doesn’t want to interrupt the class and get in trouble with the teacher. 

Julia says those interactions have not affected her grades, which will likely stay the same. Oftentimes, it has left her on mute, only to become chatty with her four close friends after class is over. 

But when the frustration does build up, her parents tell her, “It’s gonna get better soon.” That sage message serves as a balm for the two children, who remember the uncertainties of last year but also feel the newness of spring in the air.  

Tiffany Cusaac-Smith covers race and justice for the USA TODAY Network. Click here for her latest stories. Follow her on Twitter @T_Cusaac

More in this series

Published Updated