At 15, he is defending his home and parenting his sister. One young man’s struggle to stay in school

Deneffy Sánchez, 15, rests on a bed he shares with his mother and little sister just feet away from their roommate’s bed in Los Angeles, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. In Los Angeles, housing insecurity is one of the biggest reasons kids have missed school since the pandemic and struggle to catch up. (AP Photo/Jae C.

Each community has its own set of circumstances that have conspired to sabotage young people’s dreams during and after COVID-19. In Los Angeles and much of California,“Housing is the biggest reason kids aren’t going to school or we can’t find them,” says Elmer Roldan, executive director of Communities in Schools of Los Angeles, an organization that helps dozens of Los Angeles Unified schools follow up with students who are chronically absent.

The reasons are varied and, in many cases, entirely unknown. Deneffy’s odyssey is but one example of how the pandemic wrecked the life of a vulnerable teen, and why he’s struggled to return to studying.He spent his afternoons playing soccer or baseball with friends at the park. On the weekends, he trained with the police department’s youth cadet program, advancing his mom’s dream that he become a police officer.

Just feet away, his mother, a petite 47-year-old who emigrated from Guatemala 22 years ago, stood calm, her 3-year-old daughter at her knee. Turning back to the reporter, Del Castillo continued: “They don’t let me sleep. They’re loud and they snore.” She started to cry.

It was Deneffy’s idea for him to stay in the apartment for weeks on end and physically block Del Castillo from throwing them out. She had once locked out López and Jennifer, his little sister, while he was at school.

School was online that fall and for most of the year. Instead of engaging and supporting him at that difficult moment, school was alienating. When he logged into seventh grade Zoom classesSeventh grade was a total loss academically and socially. Not wanting to explain his living situation, he stopped talking to friends, classmates and teachers.

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