“Out of a Crisis: The Voices of Our Students” is a new series, launched by the Globe’s Great Divide team, that publishes student essays, poems, artwork, and videos featuring teenage perspectives on learning and living amid a pandemic. The stories are published in the Great Divide newsletter.
About the author: Jeralys Ruiz, 17, is a senior at Opportunity Academy in Holyoke.
Working on myself
Education has always been a struggle for me, and when I reached high school it seemed nearly impossible. I transferred from one high school to another, attending three different ones. This past year, as I have taken on extra work during the COVID crisis, that challenge has become even greater.
In February, 2020, I enrolled in Opportunity Academy. I was excited for a new start, but we all know how things changed shortly after that. The transition to remote learning was a very difficult one for me. It is something I struggle with today as I write this, finding time between work shifts at Holyoke HealthCare Center and my life at home, where I care for siblings and my goddaughter, ages 15, 5, and 7. Trying to get into the routine of attending class, completing my schoolwork, and working in a nursing home as a dietary aide can be overwhelming.
I got my first job working as a dietary aide, preparing meals for residents, in 2019, and never did I think it would lead me to where I am now, dealing with the things I see and face each day. At first my job was part-time, after school a few hours a day, a couple of days each week. Then, just before the start of the pandemic, I took a full-time job, working morning shifts, so I could help provide for my household. My attendance in school fell, my grades started dropping, and I could feel the impact on my learning.
Then COVID arrived.
Working in a nursing facility is already so much work, and it’s even worse when infections or sickness are around. In April, we had a big outbreak that was difficult to control. Most of the kitchen staff became sick, and I was the only dietary aide who was lucky enough not to contract the virus. We were super short-staffed, and many of our residents passed away. I started taking double shifts and was working long hours throughout the whole week. I could no longer attend school full time.
At times, I wanted to give up so badly and say: “I’m working a full-time job so why should I even bother in school?¨
But talking with family members — even when the conversations were more negative — motivated me to persist. The positive interactions were inspiring, and the hostility helped me realize that I want more and better. In a strange way, the pandemic has made me realize that while I do want to help others, I need to help myself first. I know I can’t give up, so here I am today juggling full-time online schooling with a full-time job.
Still, it’s hard. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to accomplish everything. There are days where I feel like I’m not just lost in school but also in life. I know I am not in the same boat as most other kids my age, with so much weight on my shoulders. I go days without sleep. I stay up late doing school assignments, and I am off to work early in the morning.
Many people think COVID was bad and although it is, I have to see this moment as my motivation. I don’t love it, but without the lockdown or online school, I don’t think I would be where I am today. One step closer to graduating, and planning for my life beyond that, with big goals to finish my certifications and study child psychology.