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‘It’s A Really Scary Time:’ Urbana Schools Employee On Supporting Latino Students

URBANA – With schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Urbana School District is working to get information and resources to students in need. 

Some of those efforts are being led by Lucia Maldonado, the district’s Latino Parent Liaison. 

Maldonado says many Latino students and families in the Champaign-Urbana area are struggling from job losses due to COVID-19.

Additionally, the district has more than 30 students who are unaccompanied minors, who’ve fled violence in their home countries. Many of them had been working nights and weekends to pay bills but have been laid off from their restaurant jobs in recent days, Maldonado says.

Maldonado spoke with Illinois Newsroom about the district’s efforts to help students and their families during this time.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Christine Herman: How are Latino families in Urbana doing at this time? 

Lucia Maldonado: I’ve been receiving a lot of questions from people who are not exactly sure what Illinois’ stay-at-home order meant, such as: what services are supposed to be open, what services are supposed to be closed, who needs to be working?

There is a lot of confusion among some of the families who do cleaning, work in maintenance, painting and those kinds of trades. 

I’ve been translating information as much information as I can and posting it for the Spanish-speaking people in the community, just to help them understand and help them be calm, because I know that it must be really scary to hear all these changes and to see people at the stores panicking and buying so much stuff and not being really able to understand everything that is going on.

CH: Because of your role in the Urbana School District as the Latino parent liaison, you’re also connected with many of the unaccompanied minors in our community. And many of them, I understand, are teenagers who are in school and also work jobs at night and on weekends to support themselves to send money back home. How are they being affected by all of this?

LM: I think that’s just one of the groups that is going to be the most affected. 

Most of them are not going to be working for days or weeks. Most of them were working in restaurants as support staff. So they were told, immediately after the Governor ordered restaurants closed last week, that they were not going to be working for a couple of weeks. 

Many of them rely on the food that they get at school – breakfast and lunch – so they don’t have that. 

We have a food pantry at Urbana High School and we were able to get more food last week and distribute it to their homes. We’re going to keep doing that as long as we need to. I think making sure that they eat is one of the most important things that we can do. 

Of course, now they’re raising concerns also about not having a job and how they’re going to be able to pay the rent and the bills because most of them are renting a room or a space in somebody else’s home, and they don’t know yet how they’re going to pay rent and bills.

That is not just a problem for them. I have gotten many messages from parents who are also dealing with the same issue. Most of these families and families who live paycheck to paycheck, so they don’t really have a lot of savings. 

It’s a really scary time. I mean, I can’t imagine having kids at home and being the only provider and then suddenly losing my job. 

CH: What advice would you give to people in the Champaign-Urbana area who want to help some of these families and students who are struggling right now?

LM: One of the things that has been very helpful is donations to the local food pantries and the local food bank, because that’s where we’re getting our food from. So, if you are able to donate to food pantries, or if you’re able to drive and you feel comfortable going out, volunteer to deliver food.

Also, in order to help to ensure that students have something to do, we’re collecting books in Spanish and English for a “little free library” on Ivanhoe Drive in Urbana, to make sure that the students at least have access to reading materials. The district is also working to make educational materials available to students while they’re home.

Those interested in volunteering for food delivery or making a book donation can contact Lucia via email at lmaldonado@usd116.orgFor more information about USD 116’s meal drive-up program, visit the district’s website.

Follow Christine on Twitter: @CTHerman

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Christine Herman

Christine Herman is a Ph.D. chemist turned audio journalist who covers health for the Illinois Newsroom. Her reporting for Illinois Public Media/WILL has received awards from the Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association, the Public Media Journalists Association and has reached both regional and national audiences through WILL's health reporting partnership with Side Effects Public Media, NPR and Kaiser Health News. Christine started at WILL in 2015.

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