Friday, May 7, 2010
GLORIA PENNER (Host): The 7.2 magnitude earthquake centered outside of Mexicali nearly five weeks ago caused structural damage to many buildings in the surrounding area including 13 schools in the Calexico Unified School District. All but two of those schools have reopened but many of the students in the region were forced to stay home for weeks while the damage was assessed and repaired. KPBS reporter Ana Tintocalis traveled to Calexico this week and she visited the schools most impacted by the quake. She joins me now with more on the story. Welcome Ana.
ANA TINTOCALIS (KPBS Reporter): Thank you.
PENNER: What damage did the schools suffer?
TINTOCALIS: Well there was a lot of internal damage. If you drive by the campuses they might not look like they're in disrepair but inside there was exposed electrical wire, asbestos contamination, cracks in ceilings, in roofs, there was busted water pipes, air conditioning units were busted. So there was a lot of repairs to be made. And it also took a lot of assessment on the part of inspectors to make sure everything kind of worked out because schools are very much deemed institutions that have to be extremely safe for students.
PENNER: So was this a reasonable amount of time to reopen the schools or did there feel to be some delays there?
TINTOCALIS: I think when you talk to parents in the community they might feel there were – it was too long of a time. But school officials will tell you that a month had to be taken off from school because these repairs, although small, there were so many of them at all 13 campuses were damaged that it took this time to finally get everything back in shape.
PENNER: So how have the parents reacted to the closures?
TINTOCALIS: There's a lot of frustration. You had kids staying at home for a month and you know, these are parents that have to go to school – cause daycare issues. I heard a lot of families who had jobs but lost them because of the earthquake. They were just spending time in public parks. But in terms of the academic situation for students, many people say the loss of instructional time is like losing a whole year of school. So the district did what it could to get them back on track in terms of passing out instructional packets with worksheets with assignments. They also assignments online. But still, there was a lot of frustration that there wasn't a lot of classroom instruction going on.
PENNER: So what exactly has the district done to make sure the students stay on track academically?
TINTOCALIS: The superintendent of Calexico, her name is Dr. Christina Luna, she says, you know there's only so much they could do. The worksheets that they passed out, the online classes, some tutoring sessions held by teachers, that's pretty much all they could do because all the campuses were in disrepair and this is what she had to say:
CHRISTINA LUNA (Superintendent, Calexico Unified School District): We are not only looking at the academics of our students but also the emotional well-being. We have our counselors who are ready to work with our students, to work with our teachers. We have a group that are on call that we can loan from school to school to make sure that our students are emotionally ready to learn. We have some homework packets that are going out. We're also going to be doing some assessment with our students, expanding our summer school program to include more of our students in that. We are definitely have some other programs going on for our high school students…
PENNER: So how has the Calexico school district tried to meet the needs of the students?
TINTOCALIS: Well I think the thing that they're most concerned about – they're doing the best they can – but the thing that I think they're most concerned about is that April and May is testing season for students. This is state standardized tests. And they haven't heard back from the state whether or not their test scores are going to count. In fact, they didn't take the tests because there was no school. So they're appealing to the State Department of Education to ask they can – if they do have to take the tests still, that those test scores be waived because test scores, in the world of standardized testing, these test scores are a big issue for schools; they can make or break a school. And this school district right now is already academically behind. They're on a federal watch list. They're also reeling from state budget cuts. And on top of that now this earthquake and issues with getting reimbursed for a lot of the repairs that they've made so there's a lot of moving parts right now. So yes, academics is an important thing but school officials will say safety is utmost important. We need to have our campuses safe and secure.
PENNER: Well it's true but meanwhile we're still hearing about aftershocks from the earthquake. I mean, how does that affect the kids and their parents?
TINTOCALIS: Yes, when I went to school, I went inside one of the classrooms and one of the first things they did on the first day of coming back was an earthquake drill. And a part of making kids feel comfortable is having counseling teams set up in the schools. And it's really important, from the school officials' point of view, feel safe first and then they can focus on academics. But then of course, how does this all figure into how they'll be able to catch up academically? That's still an open question.
PENNER: I was thinking this must be particularly hard on the seniors who are coming up to the end, so to speak, and then missing all this time.
TINTOCALIS: Right and that's one thing to really make not of. Two schools are still closed, one of which is Calexico High School; it's the only high school in Calexico. 2,100 students attend and basically they're just taking advantage of the free time. Some are trying to do their assignments, others are just hanging out. And the principal at Calexico High School is hoping online classes a "cyber classroom" will help get kids caught up and recover some of those units that were lost.
PENNER: Very good. Well thank you very much Ana Tintocalis.
TINTOCALIS: Thank you.