A rising trend has sounded the alarm for staff at Indio High School. Many students' grades are plunging, while attendance dwindles. In the worst cases, some students are unaccounted for.
"Wednesday’s are my home visits for students that I have not been engaging on a regular basis in our distance learning model," said Indio High School Assistant Principal, Richard Pimentel.
On Wednesday, Pimentel got into his truck to search for students he has noticed are having trouble keeping up. He had 8 pieces of paper in hand, each detailing information of 8 different students.
Pimentel adopted the routine back in September to go out and check on students who were falling behind and facing problems that could interfere with school work.
"At the very beginning of the year I think it’s when we saw the most dire situations because there were students that really didn’t have the basic resources to even engage in school so their basic needs weren’t met," Pimentel said.
Since then, countless students have received resources ranging from WiFi hotspots to electronic devices to ensure they could attend class.
"As the year has progressed we worked with some of those families and some of them are in a better place. But it’s become more now as students have given up almost," said Pimentel.
As the attendance facilitator, Pimentel meets his duties. But being able to locate students and identify their needs has become personal.
"I just want to see them and I want to see them succeed."
Pimentel estimates making roughly 300 to 400 visits since he started.
His findings, however, are much more alarming.
"In my visits nowadays I find that about a third of the students are just disengaged because they lost motivation. They just have a general sense of apathy to the distance learning model. About a third of them have real needs as far as basic needs, connectivity issues, even housing and basic sustenance. And really about a third of them I can’t find, which worries me the most because I just don’t know where they are, how they are," said Pimentel.
The outcomes vary. In the worst scenarios, some students have lost loved ones due to illness, including parents. The pandemic has forced many of their lives into turmoil and uncertainty, making education a last priority.
"How do you reengage somebody whose mind is completely elsewhere because they’ve lost someone, because they’ve lost so much during this pandemic? Part of it is just listening and trying to empathize as much as you can and remind them that they haven’t lost everything, that we’re here and they’re our family. We’ll always be there for him."
Other students have simply lost motivation to the virtual learning model. Wednesday's weekly visit was met with at least one student having to be woken up while Pimentel waited at the door.
"I see a lot of kids sleeping and my job is to wake them up, and shake them up a little bit and let them know that we’re there. I don’t want to put all the blame on kids because there’s so many circumstances that they have been unable to control," said Pimentel.
If Pimentel is able to locate a student, he asks questions to determine why the student is not attending class. He has them bring out their laptops to ensure there is everything he can do on the school's end so that students can access class and their assignments.
"I just don’t want there to be any excuses. I can do something about connectivity, I can do something about resources, and so I need to make sure all of that is out of the equation and that they’re able to log in and after that, it becomes part of their duty."
The pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges for students, while Pimentel said it has widened the gap for students who were already struggling with limited resources. As in-person learning slowly starts to get integrated back into schools, he's hoping embattled students can bounce back.
"There’s going to be remnants of this for years to come. We’re hoping to mitigate on the negative ones and build on the positive ones."