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Media News
for Chalkbeat: "˜Una gran familia': How WhatsApp helped a small Brooklyn school remain a big family in the face of isolation and grief
josé a. alvarado jr.
Jun 13, 2021
Location: cypress hills
The messages pinged at all hours, pleas from parents frantically trying to keep up with remote learning as the coronavirus pandemic took hold of New York City.

A password for Zoom lessons. The third grade class schedule. Trouble logging into an email account.

Each one was urgent. Some were dire.

Unpaid utility bills. No food in the house. Reaching a breaking point with a child.

The texts flooded “PS 89 PTC 2019-2020,” a group chat started by the Parent-Teacher Collaborative on WhatsApp. It became a lifeline last spring for the families of P.S. 89 in Cypress Hills, a small Brooklyn neighborhood bordering Queens that has been among the city’s hardest hit communities. One out of every 10 people in the school’s 11207 ZIP code was infected with the coronavirus. More than 300 died.  

As COVID upended school, the thread on the messaging app was a virtual gathering place to share reminders of login times and tips for navigating Google Classroom. As families lost jobs, the chat was a bridge to help signing up for food benefits or receiving care packages full of hard-to-get essentials like sanitizing wipes and toilet paper. And as nerves frayed and losses mounted, the message group served as a direct line to a listening ear.

It was often an all-hands effort, with parents, teachers, and school leaders jumping in with answers whenever they had them. But sorting through the deluge of need often fell to a team of moms on the P.S. 89 parent organization. While staring down the crisis themselves, they responded to message, after message, after message — helping make sure families were fed, received remote learning tech support, and had someone to turn to even while isolated at home.

Photographed for Chalkbeat, with words by Christina Veiga.                  

How WhatsApp connected a school amid isolation and grief
WhatsApp became a lifeline for the largely Spanish-speaking families of P.S. 89. Here’s how parents used it to connect the Brooklyn school community amid COVID.


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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