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Schoolteacher helps family in need during pandemic

Updated March 12, 2021 - 8:22 am

It began with an essay.

It ended with a family in need learning how to smile again.

Last semester, Kristin Pohl, a teacher at Basic Academy of International Studies, assigned her 11th-grade English class a paper posing a straightforward question: What is your life like?

She received some knotty answers from one of her students, J.J. Rodriguez.

Due to the pandemic, he was homeless for a time, forced to live in a car with his mother and younger sister.

“Just having the kids write that essay told me what dire straits this family was in, but also the depression and the loneliness and the isolation that these kids are feeling,” Pohl recalls. “The one thing that I heard J.J. say was, ‘I kept talking and talking and talking, and I felt like nobody was listening.’ That broke my heart that he felt that way as a 17-year-old.”

For Rodriguez, the essay was an opportunity to find a voice that he felt had been silenced.

“I was able to tell her my whole story, because essentially I felt like I was telling everybody my story, and no one listened,” he explains of his family having to live in his mom’s ex-boyfriend’s car before finding housing in November. “I wasn’t expecting anything. It was just seeing if someone would listen. And someone did.”

Alarmed by what the family was going through, Pohl launched a GoFundMe account in hopes of assisting the family.

By the time the campaign ended in late January, it had raised more than $9,000.

“When she asked for help, we were like, ‘OK, someone is actually listening to us,” Rodriguez says. “We were just so surprised and … grateful.”

With the funds generated, Pohl was able to help provide the family with mattresses, shoes, kitchenware and most importantly, a car.

So much money was raised that Pohl was able to help other families in need, too.

While the pandemic has raised questions about the effectiveness of distance learning, Pohl notes that that’s only part of the challenge of classrooms being closed.

“Everybody is so concerned that kids are falling behind as far as learning goes, but what they’re not looking at is that no kid can learn unless they’re eating, unless they’re happy, unless they’re safe. We can’t even get to learning before we satisfy all that stuff. I think we’re overlooking what these kids are going through.”

Juan Plascenia, a teacher at the Las Vegas Academy of the Arts, has seen the disruption the pandemic has caused his students firsthand, noting that some have had to choose between school and working to help support their families.

“The biggest thing that I’ve been noticing over and over again is, ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t get to this one thing of homework, we had to move somewhere’ or ‘We had to couch surf,’ ” Plascenia says. “When I have one-on-ones with students, I hear things like, ‘Mr. P, I’m in class, but I’m also helping out a customer’ or ‘I hear everything you’re telling me, but I have to prioritize, ‘Do I get sleep or do I do the homework from my math or science or your class?’ ”

For Rodriguez, getting through the school year has been tough, but ultimately successful, as he doubled up on his classes to graduate early.

The GoFundMe money helped pay for his college application fees.

“We will persevere. There’s more to life now,” says Rodriguez’s mom Alicia Green. “I feel so much better waking up in the morning.”

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter and @jbracelin76 on Instagram

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