Art and Documentary Photography - Loading 211017-NYT.jpg
for The New York Times: For In-Person School, Fulfilling Students’ Wish Lists
josé a. alvarado jr.
Dec 15, 2021
Location: Staten Island
Catherine Fils’s three children were all starting at new schools. And this year, she was determined to continue their annual tradition.

“Every first day of school, for the first week,” she said, “you’ve got to have new clothes.”

Ms. Fils wanted to make sure her children — Anthony, 17; Jalen, 14; and Jazmine, 11 — could pick out new outfits and feel confident on their first days at new schools on Staten Island.

The family had been living in an apartment in Brooklyn a few years ago, but after issues arose there, Ms. Fils moved her family into a homeless shelter. Soon after they moved, the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the city and schooling became virtual.
Ms. Fils, 33, worked hard to keep her children in good spirits. They played board games and did puzzles.“Something new or different,” Ms. Fils said, “just so they could take their mind off of everything.”

But strains in the shelter mounted. The children had trouble connecting to the internet and were sometimes unable to hear the lessons.

“It was a whole fight,” Ms. Fils said about navigating online school.

On top of the technological problems, Ms. Fils was taking her children to stay with family members on the days she had work as a home health aide. She would wake them up at 5 or 6 a.m. to go to relatives’ homes before her shifts began at 8. After about a year, Ms. Fils’s children were exhausted, and she decided she had to quit her job and help them with school full-time.

Photographed for The New York Times, with words by Emma Grillo.
For In-Person School, Fulfilling Students’ Wish Lists
After remote learning, these New Yorkers received assistance buying supplies and new clothes as they headed back to the classroom.


José A. Alvarado Jr. is a visual storyteller devoted to documenting cultural and social issues, as well as human interest stories in the US and Puerto Rico.
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