Stories from the Heart: Learning during a pandemic

Bay Area students are struggling to adapt to the challenges and changes that COVID-19 has thrown at them.

They are adjusting to a remote learning environment in overcrowded homes, with the added pressure and uncertainty of parents who have been laid-off or furloughed as bills pile up.

Acknowledge Alliance’s Gladys Gudino is used to helping students face challenges in their daily lives and educational careers. Acknowledge Alliance focuses on education and mental health, and the Tim Griffith Foundation provides an ongoing grant to the Alliance’s Transition Program.

The program supports those reintegrating into comprehensive high schools from San Mateo County Court and Community Schools. These students attend weekly counselling sessions with Transition Program Therapist, Gladys Gudino.

She also works with teenagers who are considered a high risk of dropping out of, or being expelled from, school, and those who are academically inclined but are struggling with anxiety, depression, and their sense of identity.

“What both of these groups have in common is a need and desire to form bonds with caring adults,” Gladys said.

“Many, if not all, of these young people come from families where there is immense love, but often a lack of knowing how to connect with the student, how to amend hard experiences, or how to make decisions that would break unhealthy family cycles.”


When you layer a global pandemic on top of some already complex issues, these students are having to draw on their own resilience and rely on others, like Gladys, to keep a sure footing at an uncertain time.

“Students are having an array of difficulties. Some are the same ones as before: unsolved trauma, absent parents, academic frustrations,and limitations to age-appropriate independence,” she said.

“Many things are uncertain and students are processing all of this… others are being pulled back into family systems that may not be conducive to individuation: they are asked to take care of siblings, they are considering staying local to save money, and others are feeling guilty about leaving their families during dire times.”

Students are balancing a new learning environment with the disappointment of changed plans.

Students who were preparing to separate from their families to start their own lives, now feel trapped. And the Shelter in Place order has affected their ability to socialize and work to save money for a better future.

“They got through high school with many struggles and for many the reward was to leave home for college after; that would be the change for them to really become who they are meant to be,” she said.

“Now, with this indefinite Shelter in Place, they do not know what summer and college may look like.”


While students are at home, Gladys has had to adjust counselling sessions to video or phone sessions.

“There are cases when I continue to see a client in person,following social distancing, cleaning, and health protocols. These are often due to students being in crisis or families living in very small spaces that do not permit for the privacy or internet connection needed for a live video session,”she said.

Gladys described families of four or more living in small studio apartments.

“Despite “Zoom fatigue” from remote learning, my student clients have shown over and over their commitment to their mental health. They attend their weekly therapy sessions and their interpersonal work continues seamlessly.”


She works with students to validate their anxieties surrounding COVID-19 through reassurance and mindfulness.

“There is also dealing with anticipatory grief. This means addressing this “living loss”: we know things have changed but we also know there are still more that will change. We will continue to lose things and this can feel powerless,” she said.

“So we name our feelings, we own them, and we let them pass.There is power, and empowerment, in naming them.”


Parents are also struggling to either continue working from home or to bounce back from being laid off, all while aiding their children in ‘homeschooling’.

Gladys’ advice to parents is to remember that this situation is hard on everyone, and to not beat themselves up over trying to be the perfect teacher.

She referenced an open letter currently circulating the internet:

Dear Parents,
Don’t stress about schoolwork. When school resumes, I will get your children back on track. I am a teacher and that’s my superpower.What I can’t fix is social-emotional trauma that prevents the brain from learning. So right now, I just need you to share your calm, share your strength, and share your laughter with your children. No kids are ahead. No kids are behind. Your children are exactly where they need to be.
With love,
All the teachers on planet Earth

The most important thing for a child now, is a loving, predictable,and understanding home life.

“I want to assure parents that academics will be figured out. What their students need are patience and room to grieve what they have lost,” Gladys said.

“As adults we are nervous and scared; imagine what this feels like for kids who have no points of reference to help them self-soothe. They need us to be that.”


There are some ways that older students can set themselves up for “successful” home schooling.

Getting 30 minutes of exercise a day can help clear your head.

Create a routine based on what your school expects of you,but also take into account:

“Also, remind yourself that we are not functioning at our usual capacity and this makes sense.”

It is completely normal for small tasks to feel complicated and more frustrating. Give yourself the space to break these tasks into smaller chunks to chip away at.

“Try to eat healthy and get out of your house for at least 30 minutes a day to clear your head. Also I encourage 30 minutes of physical activity a day.”


Finally, Gladys has a message for everyone who is finding it difficult to cope at the moment.

“I want to remind us to maintain hope that we will get through this and that when we find ourselves losing hope, to practice self-compassion and acceptance of all our feelings,” she said.

“They are all valid and they all make sense.”

Your donations to the Tim Griffith Foundation help us support programs such as the Acknowledge Alliance Transition Program.  

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