It was a Monday morning as Olivero Garza Sr. Elementary School 1st grade student Jimena Garza logged on to her social studies class from the breakfast table and immediately asked her teacher something important to her.
“Why weren’t you at my birthday?” Jimena asked her homeroom teacher, Miss Bernal. The Saturday prior, Jimena turned 7 and celebrated the occasion with a Disney villain-themed drive-thru parade I took part in. Jimena had invited Miss Bernal to participate.
“I’m sorry mama I couldn’t make it, but happy birthday!” Miss Bernal responded. “Now let’s get started with class ok?”
“Ok,” Jimena answered as she took out her journal across from me at the dining room table where I was eating breakfast and going over some notes for work.
This has been the routine for the last few weeks as Jimena, my cousin and neighbor, has been taking part in virtual classes since the school year started.
Since her parents are employees with the La Joya school district and work in their respective campuses, my mom babysits Jimena while her parents are at work.
“It makes up for all the times I was working and your aunt was babysitting you and your siblings,” my mom explained.
“I call this house the ‘dog-treating’ house because there’s so many dogs here it’s like a dog orphanage,” Jimena said. “I love coming here, the dogs are so cute!”
Currently, the Sharyland school district is offering online learning for students but will give parents the option to allow their children the option to return to campus later this month.
Jimena said she would gladly go back to school as she misses the playground.
“Recess was the best, it was a big playground with slides and swings and monkey bars and I miss doing flips there. I love it,” she said. “We have a slide and monkey bars at my normal house but I don’t use it. It has cobwebs and my dad doesn’t clean them.”
The district is currently closed to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, a subject Jimena is familiar with.
“It makes people sick and we have to wear masks,” Jimena said when I asked her if she knew what it was. “My parents told me coronavirus is going to make people die and people can’t go to the hospital because whoever goes to the hospital can’t be ‘ccompanied because no one is allowed to go to the hospitals anymore.”
Jimena responded in a neutral tone, as if she didn’t like to think about the subject too much.
“I’m 100 percent not scared of it,” she said. “Because we don’t have coronavirus. If I get it the doctors would just make medicine,” she added with a shrug.
Instead of a regular class routine of being on campus from 8 a.m. through 3 p.m., Jimena and other students in her class have been at home taking shortened classes.
Her days start with her social studies class, followed by math, reading, language arts and science in half hour blocks starting at 8:30 a.m.
In each class, Miss Bernal has Jimena and other students fill out a workbook and journal where they write in their responses and the students have to send photos of the assignments to Miss Bernal through the Google classroom chat function students are using.
In between breaks, Jimena alternates between arts and crafts, music, P.E. and counseling on Tuesdays and Thursdays but either lies in bed watching TV in my mother’s room, chases my three dogs around the house or gets on my stationary bike to be active.
“Today for social studies we learned how to be good citizens and respect each other and for math we’re adding up to 100,” Jimena said. “But my favorite class is arts and crafts, I like it because I am a true artist. I practice drawing and now I know how to draw a real life person, I could probably draw you!”
Jimena, however, refused to let me see her drawings when I asked her to show them to me.
Her least favorite class, I learned, was music (“The teacher is so old,” she said when I asked her why.)
At the beginning of the semester, Jimena struggled with online classes as the spotty internet reception at my area caused Google classrooms to routinely kick her out of the virtual classes due to a poor reception. Jimena is now using a hotspot provided by the school that we always make sure is plugged in and charging as when she first started using it she kept running out of battery for it fast.
She also has a smart watch for kids that has multiple alarms reminding her to log in for class that she keeps forgetting to charge before coming to my home. My mom now has the same alarms on her phone to keep an eye on Jimena’s schedule.
Despite previously saying she misses school, Jimena said she loves being at the “dog treating house” for school.
“Every class I have a long break and we get to draw in every assignment,” Jimena said. “It took so long to get home when we were in school. It was so embarrassing.”
Jimena said her parents haven’t talked to her about the possibility of allowing her to return to campus when it reopens, but Jimena said she wants her parents to have that conversation with her soon.
“I’d tell them I want to go back,” she told me, adding that she’d wear a mask all day in class.