June 13, 2018
As a child, Alexis Barrales, who grew up in Logan Heights, knew that her parents struggled to get work, and that the community reached out to help her family. She also remembers getting up very early in the morning so her mother could get her on a bus to Clairemont, where the educational opportunities were better than where she lived. “My parents pushed us to go to school. Education was very important to them; it was the first priority for our family.”
This first-hand experience gives her perspective on the families she deals with while interning with United Way’s Every Student, Every Day (ESED) initiative in Lemon Grove. “It helps that I have a good idea of what these families are going through,” she explains.
Last February, two siblings – a kindergartner and a 4th grader – came onto her caseload because they had logged 16-18 absences in three months. She discovered that their single mother of five had unexpectedly left town. “The grandmother came up from Tijuana and took over raising the kids. We found out mom was doing drugs and in bad shape.”
Alexis and the school’s social worker helped the family apply for a food program and supplemented that with shoes and donated gas cards and Walmart gift cards from United Way. Alexis acted as translator between the social worker and the grandmother, who only spoke Spanish, helping them sign up for SDG&E’s bill reduction program and getting them through the school application process for the three younger siblings.
As soon as the ESED team began working with the family, the two older siblings’ absences dropped to zero. “They always came to talk to me,” Alexis reports, “so did Grandma, who always gave me updates. We help her out as much as possible. And we hear her daughter, the mother, got into a rehab program in Tijuana.”
Alexis set goals with students, listened to their struggles, and helped them sort things out. “When they were living with their mother, they kept getting head lice. We provided grandma with treatment shampoo and made sure to check in regularly.” With grandma living close by and keeping the house clean, both children improved quickly.
“I continued to meet with them weekly,” Alexis says. “We talked about their future possibilities and what they can overcome, and how important everyday attendance is. But they also came to me when they were feeling sad.”
“Every child has a story,” she continues. “It’s important that they get support from staff at school. It helps them stay on track.”
Alexis credits Every Student, Every Day for the students’ success and her own education as well. “I learned so much in this program, especially focusing on the family and all the barriers and limitations they face – what happens when they don’t reach out, how the problems keep adding up.”
“As a team we’ve worked with so many families and provided them with assistance so they can focus on their child’s education, which they will need to succeed throughout life.”
She remembers her first encounter with United Way’s attendance initiative, when she was looking for a social work internship. “I had enrolled my son in a preschool in Linda Vista, where the coordinator recommended United Way’s intern program. He helped me learn about this amazing opportunity, and it changed my life.” After graduation, she hopes to work for the County’s Child Welfare Services.
Alexis’s story came full circle when she heard the staff at her son’s school stressing the importance of kindergarten attendance, emphasizing that even at that young age, attendance counts.
“Got it,” she said. “That’s what I do!”
by Sue Greenberg
UWSD Staff Writer