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‘All we wanna do is go back’

Heaven Chacon, left, and her sister Bobbie kept busy by attending to their farm animals during the pandemic. (Don J. Usner/Searchlight New Mexico)

The front yard is filled with old cars, almost too many to count – several Chevy hardtop and convertible Impalas, a dusty Volkswagen Beetle and a Chevy Deluxe, to name just a few, each in either a state of decay or rebirth. Angel, Heaven and Bobbie Chacon, who all live in Chimayó, claim at least one among the bunch as their “own” – the car they hope to drive in a lowrider show one day. Bobby Chacon, the girls’ father, is a renowned lowrider and co-founder of Los Guys Car Club, who for years has “rebuilt cars from the ground up.” His family compound, located off an arroyo, is half showroom, half storage.

Angel, 14, attends Carlos F. Vigil Middle School, and her sisters, Heaven, 11, and Bobbie, 9, are students at James H. Rodriguez Elementary School, all in nearby Española.

Early last spring, Heaven recalls wishing “for school to shut down.” But now, she said, “all we wanna do is go back.”

“It’s been kind of boring,” Bobbie said of online school.

Angel, an eighth-grader, added that “most of the time” her classmates had their cameras off, which meant she couldn’t even see their faces.

Like other school districts in New Mexico, Española Public Schools reopened to in-person learning on April 6.

All three girls grew tired of listening to teachers and classmates struggling with the Google Chromebooks they received from the school district. Even a year after the switch to online learning, the teacher was always “trying to teach other students how to log in,” Heaven said.

It was not uncommon for her to see other students’ family members walk around in the background or hear music playing during lessons. Her fellow fifth-graders already had trouble paying attention, and the distractions made things even harder. The pranks got old, too. Other kids from other grades were always trying to get into her classes, she said. “All you need is a code.”

With an arch smile, Heaven imitated how one teacher tried to get kids to behave: “I’ll call your name three times and, if you don’t answer, then I’m gonna kick you out!”

Heaven, 11, Angel, 14, and Bobbie Chacon, 9, at their home in Chimayó did not enjoy the year they spent with online learning. (Don J. Usner/Searchlight New Mexico)

 

Angel, the shyest of the sisters, added that, “It’s harder to ask for help in online school. I would rather email my teacher afterward than to ask her during the meeting.” On good days, she estimated there were 20 students in her class. On other days, maybe 14 would show.

Her favorite class, then and now, is “civil air patrol, a military science course, because we actually get to talk to each other. Every class, the teacher asks us to tell him something good about our day.”

Like her sisters, Heaven is more interested in life outside of school, on a small farm at their uncle Armando’s house down the road. Even before the pandemic, the girls’ father began assembling the farm there. When the internet at the Chacon house couldn’t handle all the girls logging in at the same time for school, Heaven and Angel began spending the week at their uncle’s, where there was more bandwidth. As the pandemic dragged on, Bobby Chacon expanded the farm into a sprawling compound, with goats, pigs, pheasants, turkeys, ducks, rabbits and chickens roaming among a thicket of unruly pens. Pam Jaramillo, the girls’ mom, said her daughters “didn’t even know what was going on with the pandemic after that, because they were so busy with the animals.”

“Being in school all day is hard because there is less time to feed the animals,” Angel said. It’s a full day, “from 7:55 to 3:00,” but afterward, when she stepped outside her uncle’s doublewide, the farm was but feet away. “My favorite animals are the goats.”

Heaven echoes those sentiments: “I like to do my homework right away, then eat, watch TV and feed the animals.” On a recent day at the farm, she made a beeline to one brown-and-grey baby goat. “This one is Karen,” she announced, holding the kid in her arms like an infant.

Bobbie, a third-grader, also feeds the baby chicks, tiny fluff balls scuttling around a homemade pen in the Chacon’s sunroom. She picked one up and pointed out the incubator where rows of eggs basked under yellow fluorescent bulbs. Her mom, standing nearby, spotted a chick in the middle of hatching.

The coronavirus has been almost universally challenging for mothers of young children, but, for Pam, it hit particularly close to home. Despite being careful, all five members of the family got COVID-19, each suffering a different symptom. They recovered quickly, “except for me,” said Pam, a two-time cancer survivor. “I was out of breath for a month and a half.”

For the children, the main stress has been school. Amid the haze of online learning, PE stood out: Students found workouts on YouTube and shared them with the class. Bobbie liked to do the exercises alone in the kitchen, usually a combination of “jumping jacks and running in place.” Other than that, the particulars of classes were elusive. Math, she described as “one little website thing.” And her classmates? “I can’t remember a few of their names.”

Mostly, Bobbie said laughing, that she liked to eat while she was in online class, a novelty that wasn’t allowed in the school building.

Other than that, what did she like about remote learning?

“Nada.”

Searchlight New Mexico is a non-partisan, nonprofit news organization dedicated to investigative reporting in New Mexico.


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