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Teens struggle to balance school, family, work amid COVID-19

Kara Apuzzo poses for a portrait Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in New Haven, Conn. Educational disruptions forced by the coronavirus pandemic are hurting teenagers who also may need to work and help their families care for young kids. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

By LINDSAY WHITEHURST, SALT LAKE CITY (AP):- With her baby brother in her arms, Kara Apuzzo tried to follow along in an online class as he squirmed or slept. Other times, the 18-year-old rushed to get ready for work at a front-line job at Target as her virtual high school lessons were still wrapping up.

Last school year was further complicated by computer issues that kept her from logging in and online tools that bedeviled even her teachers. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Apuzzo, who lives in New Haven, Connecticut, knew she wanted to go to college right after high school. Now, she’s not so sure.

“Right now, I don’t know where I want to go with my life,” she said. “I feel so behind when it comes to what do college kids actually do. … It’s scary, it’s so new — I don’t have any idea what I’m even doing.”

Educational disruptions forced by the pandemic are hurting teenagers at a time when many families also are struggling with layoffs and child care for young kids — challenges that are expected to persist as a new school year gets underway, largely with remote learning.

Some teens have to share computers with siblings or sign in to classes in crowded households or from their cars. Others have been laid off from after-school jobs that help provide for their families or work extra hours in essential industries, leaving less time for school. Students whose parents can’t work from home also have less structure to push them to get their work done.

“They’re at home being their own teachers,” said Nick Mathern, vice president of K-12 Partnerships for the nonprofit Achieving the Dream, which helps students complete degrees through community colleges.

The transition from high school to college can be rocky for many teens, and the coronavirus crisis could widen the gap between kids with wealthier, college-educated parents and their lower-income peers, Mathern said.

“That’s a real danger when it comes to increasing inequality in our country,” he said.

Mathern’s group works with hundreds of U.S. institutions through Gateway to College, which helped Apuzzo improve her grades before the pandemic. Now, she’s planning to work for a year before enrolling in college.

Schools and organizations like his, Mathern says, will have to get more creative in figuring out how to help older students like Apuzzo who are facing a new set of challenges.

Hope Spann, 19, had some of the same difficulties. She spent the last few months of the school year in Chicago, balancing her classwork from Beloit College in Wisconsin with watching her two nieces, ages 3 and 6, while her siblings worked at Walmart and Wendy’s.

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