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Media News
for Chalkbeat: "˜How do we rebuild a sense of community?' A Brooklyn school seeks to find joy and connection after a devastating year
josé a. alvarado jr.
Aug 7, 2021
Location: City of New York
Milagros Reyes’s husband was in the first wave of New Yorkers to succumb to the coronavirus, taking his last breath in their East New York apartment. His death in April 2020 left Reyes alone with her two children, ages 3 and 10.

Reyes called 911 to retrieve her husband’s body, which was quarantined in a bedroom. But hours passed and no ambulance arrived. When the parent coordinator of her fifth grader’s school, P.S. 89, called to check on the child’s absence, Reyes explained the dire situation, setting off a series of messages to the school’s principal, district superintendent, anyone who could help.

Eventually, after 24 hours, paramedics arrived.

“For a young child, it’s a trauma. It wasn’t easy,” Reyes said in Spanish. But she is striving to move forward, leaning on her support system in the school community. “We’re fighting still.”…

…Suddenly the sole breadwinner after seven years of marriage, Reyes saw her work as a hairdresser dry up during the pandemic, and the family had to move. The upheaval quickly impacted the education of José David Sime Reyes, a fifth grader who was learning remotely full time and often missed virtual classes.

P.S. 89 officials went out of their way to re-engage José David, making special accommodations for him to return to the classroom even after the city’s deadline to sign up for in-person instruction closed, and offered him additional small group tutoring. The 10-year-old is making academic progress now that he’s back in the school building, though Reyes has started inquiring about counseling for him — and for herself — to help process everything they’ve been through.

Photographed for Chalkbeat with words by Alex Zimmerman.
How a school plans to heal from COVID’s devastating effects
As COVID-19 infection rates plummet, P.S. 89 is grappling with how to fully reopen schools while addressing students’ emotional wounds and learning gaps.


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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