This story is part of a series on the experiences of students attending three different California school districts during the COVID-19 pandemic, in spring 2022. It was produced through a partnership with CatchLight Local, CalMatters and the Salinas Californian.
It’s 6 a.m. and soft light hits the home in a serene Soledad neighborhood. The sound of parents getting kids ready for school can be heard from outside.
Paloma Segura runs out and screams. She’s excited to go to school after spending months learning from a computer screen.
Paloma, 8, Irma, 9, and Almarissa Segura, 14, are sisters and students at San Antonio Elementary School in Lockwood. Their father, Fred Segura, works for the school, primarily as the bus driver, and drives 85 miles every day to work.
“My reason for enrolling my three daughters into San Antonio is because I was thrown aback and admired the small community aspect that this school offers,” Fred said. “When I saw the students here at San Antonio interact with one another, it was reminiscent of when I went to school.”
The San Antonio Union School District serves roughly 170 students from kindergarten through eighth grade, and the rural school site is located about 25 miles from any services in south Monterey County.
The distance hasn’t stopped parents from enrolling their children.
While schools across the state have reported recent enrollment decreases, San Antonio School District experienced a 25% jump — 30 new students — compared to last school year, the highest in about five years, according to Superintendent Josh Van Norman.
“This is exciting for us as a district,” he said. “The district comprises farms, ranches, mobile home parks, and Fort Hunter Liggett’s military base. Enrollment shouldn’t be trending upwards simply because there are no increases in housing developments in the area. Parents choose where to send their children and we are extremely humbled that families have entrusted our district with educating their children.”
During the pandemic, Fred Segura worked off campus. The distance from school held him back from having his children attend San Antonio Elementary School sooner. Once he started to work directly on campus, he enrolled his daughters.
“It was our way to preserve our children’s youth,” Fred said. “To keep them away from handheld technology for the majority of the day and allow them to interact with multiple cultures. Their grades have gone up, and there is much more attention to detail due to San Antonio being a smaller school.”
Student Reflections: Looking Back on School during COVID was reported and written by photojournalists Larry Valenzuela, Salgu Wissmath and David Rodriguez for CatchLight & CalMatters.
This project was produced by CalMatters & CatchLight as part of the CatchLight Local CA Visual Desk. Contributors include Joe Hong, Miguel Gutierrez Jr., Martin do Nascimento, Mabel Jimenez and Jenny Jacklin-Stratton. The San Antonio Elementary School project was produced through additional collaboration with the Salinas Californian.