Inequalities reignite calls for in-person learning

A picture from social media of two girls from San Jose doing their schoolwork in a gas station parking lot is reigniting calls for in-person learning to resume.

Like many parents in the Bay Area, Mario Mendiola struggles with taking care of his daughters, while also trying to earn a living. He owns a food truck and said he has no other option but to bring his girls to work.

A photo shared on social media shows two girls underneath a San Jose gas station awning distance learning. It’s their new classroom during a pandemic. They’re steps away from a food truck. The truck is Tacos El Porkys and belongs to Mario Mendiola and the two girls in the photo are his twin daughters.

Mendiola said while they're making do, it hasn’t been easy watching Julie and Rebecca, age 7, as they remote learn. Mendiola’s wife is a housekeeper, so two days a week, he has the girls by his food truck. The district provides Chrome books and WiFi hotspots. The girls said they've adapted, but it's not ideal.

“The hardest part is that my dad is in the taco truck and all these people are talking while I’m reading,” said Second Grader Julie Mendiola.

The girls are second graders at Aptitud Community Academy at Goss in the Alum Rock Union School District. 

"It’s heart-wrenching and something we are trying to address in something we are calling learning pods,” said Hilaria Bauer, Alurm Rock Union School District’s Superintendent.

Bauer said in August, the district opened three school sites to help working parents but immediately shut them down after a staffer, then a student tested positive for Covid.

Her district has the zip codes with the highest Covid cases in the county and testing and contract tracing have been a challenge.

“We really need a better partnership,” said Bauer. “We need our friends from the county, or the city or whoever is able to support us.”

“It’s highly inequitable that some of our children are trying to do their schoolwork from a parking lot,” said Misty Pickford, San Jose Unified School District parent.

Pickford saw the photo and said it illustrates the need to reopen schools. She started a petition "Support Hybrid Learning Options" now with 350 signatures.

As for the Mendiola girls, they’re doing good and looking on the bright side.

“We get to go outside and be with my dad and mom,” said Second Grader Rebecca Mendiola.

Bauer wanted to express her thanks to parent Mario Mendiola for continuing his children's education. She knows other parents may not. Bauer plans to offer assistance saying the earliest schools could reopen in the Alum Rock School District is mid-January.