2020
March
24
Tuesday
David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Like a slow-motion video of a building demolition, we watched the best-laid plans of my nephew's wedding crumble. 

James and his fiancée, Meghan, live near Seattle. As their March 21 wedding date approached, the lockdowns spread. As the pandemic chased their date, they responded defiantly: “The wedding is on.”

But local officials had a public to protect. The reception venue was abruptly closed. Then, the wedding venue was shuttered. Undeterred, they adjusted – just like many couples who have canceled receptions and honeymoons, but not their weddings. James and Meghan would have a small, courthouse wedding. Actually, it was a courthouse-steps wedding. The judge met them outside and performed the ceremony standing six feet away. 

The reception also found a new venue. Guests from across the country dressed up in suits and ties and sparkly dresses, and gathered on Zoom for a Hollywood Squares-like reception. The bride, groom, and best man joined from their car. We took turns toasting the newlyweds. Then we danced in our little video squares to “Uptown Funk.”

Was this the wedding of their dreams? No. But there were ribald jokes and tales, peals of laughter, oohing and aahing over outfits, and tears of joy. Everything you could want in a wedding. 

Take that, coronavirus. Love conquers. 

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1. Coronavirus generation gap: Mom fights to keep kids – and grandma – home

We look at navigating the concern for family members who are disregarding public health directives – often teens and seniors – and how to express compassion and care from a distance.

David
Robby Loeb
Pia Loeb and her two children, who are in Boulder, Colorado, use video chat to talk to their grandmother, who is in New York.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a spotlight on generational differences – and generated a blame game about who is not doing their part to confront it.

At one extreme of the spectrum are the spring breakers crowding beaches in Florida, symbolizing a generation that, unfazed by their own personal risk, is not putting collective public health first. At the other end are baby boomers, who health officials say may be among the most vulnerable. But anecdotally, they’ve sometimes shown as little caution about their health as youth, as they continue to go out and socialize.

This is mounting pressure on the so-called sandwich generation: those caring for people both older and younger than themselves. Many in this group are battling to get their aging parents to heed expert advice on “social distancing,” at the same time they are raising kids who may not understand why they need to make sacrifices unlike any they have ever known.

“This is a really stressful time for people, because you can’t just jump on a plane and go to [your parents],” says Kathleen Kauth, an eldercare mediator and president of K.T. Beck Enterprises in Omaha, Nebraska. “There’s a greater sense of separation.”

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1. Coronavirus generation gap: Mom fights to keep kids – and grandma – home

Pia Loeb has been waking up restless at 5 a.m., her mind swirling with questions about where her mother should live and how to keep her young family safe from the coronavirus – although it sometimes seems like she’s the only one of them worrying.

Until last week, her septuagenarian mother was still playing tennis in her thrice-weekly clinic. And on the same day she was pleading with her mother over the phone to stay put at home in her apartment in New York’s Westchester County, Ms. Loeb found out her tween daughter, who was sent to school to pick up her things before it shuttered and come right home, had instead gone to the local shopping center with a group of friends.

Ms. Loeb, who has health issues that put her at higher risk, says the generalized disquiet that everyone is feeling right now has been compounded by her own fears that it’s not being taken seriously enough by those closest to her.

“I’ve been really anxious, as a caregiver for my kids, and taking care of myself. I want to do everything I can to protect all of us,” says Ms. Loeb, who lives in Boulder, Colorado. “And for my mom, it makes me really sad to feel powerless that I can’t do anything at this point to help her.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, we’ve removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.

Her own struggle reflects pressure mounting on Generation X, many of whom are battling to get their aging parents to heed expert advice on “social distancing,” at the same time they are raising kids who may not understand why they need to make sacrifices unlike any they have ever known. It can be especially heartbreaking for the so-called sandwich generation: those caring for both older and younger than themselves, who now face tough choices about how to live as a family in the face of so much risk.

“This is a really stressful time for people, because you can’t just jump on a plane and go to [your parents],” says Kathleen Kauth, an eldercare mediator and president of K.T. Beck Enterprises in Omaha, Nebraska. “There’s a greater sense of separation.”

Absorbing the risk

The pandemic has shined a spotlight on generational differences – and generated a blame game about who is not doing their part to confront it. At one end of the spectrum are the spring breakers crowding beaches in Florida. Their cavalier attitudes might be extreme, but they’ve come to symbolize a generation that, unfazed by their own personal risk, is not putting collective public health first.

At the other end are baby boomers. Health officials say older adults may be among the most vulnerable. But anecdotally, they’ve sometimes shown as little caution about their health as youth, earning reprimands from their children as they continue to attend exercise classes at the pool or meet friends at coffee shops.

Polling only partially bears this out, and attitudes have shifted since the U.S. government has changed its message about the risk of the coronavirus as cases mount. A Pew Research Center poll showed the older you are, the more prone you are to think the outbreak presents a major risk to your personal health. Much bigger differences were seen along party affiliation.

In a Kaiser poll, the only noticeable difference in behavior between those 60 or older and adults overall was the response to whether respondents were forgoing large gatherings, with 40% of the overall population saying they have canceled plans, compared with 29% of the older cohort.

In a March 5 to 9 Harris Poll survey reported by Forbes, 77% of those over 65 said they think they are “unlikely” to catch the coronavirus based on their habits, the least concerned of all age groups.

Much of that attitude can be attributed to having lived or seen their parents live through much worse: wars, draft, rationing, or scarcity. Baby boomers today are also much more physically active than earlier generations, which could alter their sense of perceived risk. Ms. Loeb’s mother, at 78, is the youngest player in her tennis group. Though frustrated, Ms. Loeb also empathizes with both her mother and her children. “It’s a lot to take in, for all of us,” she says. “For society overall, it makes sense it takes time. Not everyone is going to digest it at the same rate.”

An emotional burden

Coming to terms with the virus has happened in waves for the family of Nadine Roberts Cornish, a certified senior adviser and founder of The Caregiver’s Guardian, a consulting service for family caregivers. She says both her millennial son and 90-year-old father were at first skeptical about taking COVID-19 seriously. “We have had some interesting conversations around social distancing, because he really wasn’t buying into the necessity of it, not really understanding,” she says of her son. Like many Americans, now he does, she says, especially as they now know two people who have been diagnosed with the virus.

As for her father, he initially didn’t want to give up regular church-going. “He didn’t think this message applied to him initially,” she says. Since his church has moved its services online, she says he now attends at home via livestream. She herself now understands she can no longer fly from Denver to New Orleans visit him either. Instead she mailed him a “love letter,” she says, something he “would be able to read over and over and over again as a reminder to the incredibly, wonderfully perfect dad that he has been to me all of my life.”

That kind of separation can be morally crushing to the “sandwich generation.” 

Heather Benson is a Gen X mom and caregiver in Southampton, outside Philadelphia. She is caring for her mother, who has dementia and lives in their home, and has two daughters, ages 11 and 13. Since the coronavirus outbreak, she had to let go of two aides since they also work in a nursing facility where the risks of coronavirus spread are higher. And her daughters can’t go into their grandmother’s bedroom anymore – which places an emotional burden on all of them.

“It’s been harder on my youngest than my oldest. She’s the one that likes to go in and watch movies with my mom,” she says. “I have been getting groceries delivered and have not been leaving the house so as to reduce the risk for my mom. It’s even more complicated because my mom just started on hospice, so of course family wants to see her, and we’re all concerned they may not get that chance.”

Ms. Loeb also struggles with the uncertainties of “when” and “how.” For weeks as the risks mounted, she considered bringing her mother to live with them in Colorado, dreaming of renting an RV to do the cross-country trek. But she worried that would put her mother at greater risk, especially in a household with young children. “I said, ‘Mom, we might not see each other for a year,’” she says. “It’s terrifying for me to think that if she gets sick, she’s alone, or if her whole building gets quarantined, there’s no one there to help her.” 

She feels more at ease now that her mother agrees that she must stay home. And so for now they’re relying on technology to bridge the separation and minimize the risks. It’s not easy – “It can take 10 minutes to see us on the screen,” she laughs – but the other night her mother ate her dinner over FaceTime as her family cooked theirs in Colorado. “This is going to become a really big part of our everyday lives.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, we’ve removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.

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2. In Israel, pandemic tests democracy’s immune system

Civilian compliance can be more difficult to bring about in free societies. We look at Israel for an example of leaders confronting the coronavirus while testing the limits of democracy and rule of law, even if it’s temporary. 

David

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Is the coronavirus a vulnerability for democracies, as leaders marshal all the power at their disposal to address the crisis? Some see Israel as a canary in a coal mine.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken swift, aggressive action to contain COVID-19, winning praise from supporters. But critics say he and his Likud party have taken advantage of the crisis to attempt a “coup” against their rivals, who won a majority of parliamentary seats in recent elections.

In the latest standoff, the Supreme Court has intervened to force the current speaker of the parliament to step aside, and he has refused to comply. The former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s equivalent of the FBI, warned that the government had effectively disabled the judiciary and legislature. And an Israeli historian of international renown has dubbed it “the first coronavirus dictatorship.”

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem, says that the broader conclusion from the Israeli case is “that under the disguise of the corona crisis, reckless politicians can use it to violate democratic norms and conventions cultivated over decades.”

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In Israel, pandemic tests democracy’s immune system

Amid a nationwide near total lockdown, some half a million Israelis gathered at a virtual demonstration online this weekend to protest what they call an attempted coup by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s transitional government under the guise of protecting citizens from the coronavirus.

Last week, the justice minister sent out an order in the middle of the night to shut down the courts on the eve of Mr. Netanyahu’s trial on corruption charges. The government took measures to track citizens’ contact with those who tested positive by using geolocation data from their cellphones without the authorization of the parliament, in the name of halting the spread of the virus. And Mr. Netanyahu’s allies blocked the Israeli parliament from even opening, following recent elections in which his rivals won the majority of Knesset seats.

What the government is really protecting, critics say, is the prime minister’s precarious place in power. While the specifics of the alleged power grab may be rooted in Israel’s political crisis following three stalemate elections in a year, they paint it as a cautionary tale for other democracies strained by the current crisis. “The first coronavirus dictatorship,” quipped Israeli author and historian Yuval Noah Harari, known more for his international bestsellers like “Sapiens” than for commenting on Israeli politics.

“Netanyahu is trying to exploit the situation of the pandemic to hold on to power and take more extreme measures than he would if this crisis was not going on,” says Gershom Gorenberg, an Israeli historian and journalist. “I think it’s a warning elsewhere that while the [coronavirus] crisis has to be dealt with, the need for democratic controls are even greater in a crisis situation.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, we’ve removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.

In an interview with Channel 12, Mr. Netanyahu was asked if he was overstating the threat of coronavirus in order to keep himself in power after already serving four terms as prime minister. “Anyone who looks at what I am doing sees I am working for the country. ... I am doing this as I stand on the deck and navigate through the icebergs,” he said. “Behind me are other countries which have become like Titanics that are sinking.”

Indeed, supporters praise Mr. Netanyahu as a veteran leader who moved swiftly to adopt stringent measures to address the crisis, including police shutting down gatherings of more than 10 people and investigating people who violated their quarantine.

Gayil Talshir, a political science professor at Hebrew University, cautions that democracies in crisis need more supervision, including by civil rights organizations and judicial systems, in order to protect the system.

“The power concentrated in the hands of government is immense and therefore especially in times of crisis you need more supervision, more caution, more attention to individual rights, not less,” says Dr. Talshir.

She says leaders who suggest that a “deep state” apparatus might be trying to undermine them, such as U.S. President Donald Trump and the leaders of Hungary and Poland, are already inclined to try to take more power for themselves – and a crisis like this could accelerate that tendency. “There’s a threat that they would use an emergency time to weaken democratic institutions and gain even more power,” she says.

Netanyahu ally defies Supreme Court order

The power struggle between Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party and their rivals has come to a head over the speakership of the parliament.

After the recent election, President Reuven Rivlin tapped Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party to form a governing coalition.

However, Mr. Netanyahu has continued to act as prime minister and Likud’s Yuli Edelstein has continued to serve as speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

On Monday, following a complaint from Mr. Gantz’s party, Israel’s Supreme Court said the speaker should hold a vote that would enable the Knesset to fully function after a new parliament was sworn in last week.

For days Mr. Edelstein had objected to doing so, citing public health concerns and claiming that such a vote would jeopardize talks for an emergency national unity government between Likud and Blue and White. Critics say Likud simply does not want to cede power. One reason is that Blue and White and its allies could use their majority status to pass laws that make it difficult for Mr. Netanyahu to continue in office with his current legal problems, which include indictments in three criminal cases.

Last week a call went out via social media and text messages to protest outside the Knesset. Activists drove into Jerusalem from around the country, black flags waving from their cars. Several arrests were made, including of the former commander of Israel’s top special forces unit.

“These protests show that Israelis are not willing to accept such violations to our democratic norms,” says Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem.

Among those who spoke at this weekend’s virtual demonstration were Elyakim Rubinstein, former attorney general and former vice president of the Supreme Court, and Yuval Diskin, former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s equivalent of the FBI. Mr. Diskin warned the government had effectively disabled the judiciary and legislature.

Yair Fink, who heads Darkenu (“Our Way” in Hebrew), a nonpartisan civil rights group that helped organize the demonstration, said, “It is precisely in this time, when we are forbidden to congregate, that some have chosen to cynically exploit this situation to chip away at the foundations upon which our state was founded.”

Yet despite the outcry over the weekend, Justice Minister Amir Ohana and other Netanyahu allies said on Monday that Mr. Edelstein, the speaker of parliament, should ignore the Supreme Court’s order.

“I won’t agree to ultimatums,” Mr. Edelstein declared in a statement Tuesday, calling the intervention of the justice system in parliamentary business “out of place.” 

The case for and against unusual measures in a crisis

Zion Bouskila, chair of the Likud branch in the southern town of Netivot, says democracy is sacrosanct, but that at this time of an unprecedented national health crisis that could crash Israel’s economy, the focus should be on forging a unity government.

“I don’t think Netanyahu is taking advantage of coronavirus, he’s fighting to save the country,” he says. “As for the courts and the political process, they will return to normal after the crisis is handled.”

For Dr. Talshir of Hebrew University, one of the most disturbing aspects of Mr. Netanyahu’s behavior is how it sows doubt that a democracy is what is needed to rule a country in times of crisis.

“This is more threatening than just the manipulations we are seeing,” she says.

Mr. Plesner, a former member of Knesset, says the shock of the pandemic makes it challenging for people to respond to the undermining of democratic institutions, particularly the temporary shutdown of the Knesset, which he terms “a severe and unwarranted violation.”

“The broader conclusion from the Israeli case,” says Mr. Plesner, “is that we can say that under the disguise of the corona crisis, reckless politicians can use it to violate democratic norms and conventions cultivated over decades.”

Editor’s note: As a public service, we’ve removed the paywall for all our coronavirus coverage. It’s free.

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A deeper look

3. He was arrested for robbery. She saw an honor roll student and went to work.

This is a story about developing a broader sense of justice. Our reporter looks at a program in New Orleans where teachers become legal advocates for students to keep them in school instead of jail.

David
Cheryl Gerber/The Hechinger Report
Lisa María Rhodes, a social worker who helps young people entangled with the law stay in school, hugs a student at Carver High School in New Orleans.

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Every year, more than 1 million teenagers, including high schoolers, are arrested in the U.S. Students who go to jail are at risk of going down a hard-to-reverse path. Lisa María Rhodes, a social worker in New Orleans, wants to spring that trap. Her nonprofit helps young people in legal trouble and trains teachers to support students so that they can get out of jail and back in school. It’s an unusual mission that puts teachers in courtrooms, asking judges to consider the education of young suspects. 

At the high school where Ms. Rhodes used to work, roughly 200 students – nearly 1 in 4 – need legal help each year. “Students would be missing from class. I would call home and find that they’d been arrested,” she says. “It kept happening.” 

Her nonprofit also works with unauthorized immigrants who need help to continue their education. Whether she’s in a criminal court or an immigration court, Ms. Rhodes asks judges to weigh the future potential of a young life when deciding their fate. 

“Judges also want to know who this child is in front of them,” says Robert Schwartz, a legal scholar at Temple University. “You’re rounding out a portrait of a kid as a human being.”

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He was arrested for robbery. She saw an honor roll student and went to work.

School absences were rare for Lorenzo Elliott, the drum major of the George Washington Carver High School band here in New Orleans and an honor roll student with a 96% attendance rate. So when he didn’t come to school one December morning in 2015, a social worker called his home.

His family said that police had picked him up. He was accused of being a getaway driver for two of his cousins, who had been arrested for robbing someone in eastern New Orleans. Because he was 17, Lorenzo was charged as an adult in Louisiana. Despite his accomplishments, he worried that his education would be derailed. 

“I see a lot of black kids like me lost to the system,” Lorenzo says. “But my school had my back.”

Specifically, Lisa María Rhodes, a social worker at Carver at the time, jumped into action. Early in her career, when she worked as a Spanish-language teacher, Ms. Rhodes had witnessed how jail sent promising young people down a hard-to-reverse path. “Students would be missing from class. I would call home and find that they’d been arrested,” Ms. Rhodes says. “It kept happening.” 

Because most of her students could not afford even modest bail, they often stayed in jail for months – sometimes years – awaiting trial.

A few hours after Ms. Rhodes heard about Lorenzo’s arrest, she wrote a detailed letter to the magistrate judge, to provide context about the drum major that went far beyond the brief incident summary that the arresting officers had supplied. The following morning, she went to Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to deliver the letter in person. 

Lorenzo’s arrest turned out to be a tipping point for Ms. Rhodes: She vowed to commit whatever time was necessary to advocate for the roughly 200 students at Carver – nearly 1 in 4 – who need legal help each year. 

Cheryl Gerber/The Hechinger Report
Lisa María Rhodes (center), a social worker who founded a nonprofit to help court-involved students, visits members of a class at George Washington Carver High School in New Orleans.

Today she runs a project that is one of the only of its kind in the country. She and a handful of cohorts help young people who have become entangled with the law and all too often fall through the cracks in the American education system. They also train teachers to provide similar assistance. The idea is to support students in a way their parents often can’t and keep them from becoming another dropout statistic – or worse.

Justice experts across the country can name few other school-based projects like Ms. Rhodes’ in which teachers have become outside advocates for students. 

“I didn’t see a lot of teachers taking time off from school to go to court,” says Robert Schwartz, a visiting scholar at Temple University’s James Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia. “Often, they can’t.” 

Yet there is no shortage of students who need the help. More than 1.6 million youth up to age 20 were arrested around the country in 2018, according to Department of Justice data. The number was 2 million the year Lorenzo was arrested. 

In Texas, a study published in 2011 that combed through more than 900,000 school records found that 1 in 7 students had contact with the juvenile justice system during middle or high school years. It didn’t include those who ended up in adult courts. 

At the time of Lorenzo’s arrest, no school in New Orleans consistently supported its students in courts, even though Louisiana’s incarceration rate topped the nation, with 776 prisoners per 100,000 residents. Yet Ms. Rhodes was determined to do something. “Educators can change this,” she says. 

School staffers like Ms. Rhodes, focused on what’s best for a student, can influence courts to shift their focus. 

“Typically, judges and prosecutors look more narrowly, asking if there’s enough evidence for the case before them,” says Anne Lee, executive director of TeamChild, which has provided free legal advice for Seattle youth for more than 20 years. “But [Ms. Rhodes is] asking the judge to consider the child and how detention will have an impact on that child’s education. She’s interrupting what would be the natural course for kids who might not have the resources to get themselves out.”

The day after his arrest, Lorenzo, shackled for his first appearance in magistrate court, shuffled into the inmate box and sat in a row of men clad in orange jumpsuits. He had been through a lot in his young life, growing up in a public-housing development where he and two of his cousins ran with a crowd that often strayed into trouble. “I was supposed to be dead or in jail,” he says. “That’s what the family used to say.”

Then he saw Ms. Rhodes consulting with his public defender. “I saw that they were out there fighting for me,” he says. “It gave me hope.”

The magistrate judge didn’t read Ms. Rhodes’ letter. He simply looked at the charge, said it was serious, and set a steep bond that Lorenzo’s family couldn’t afford. 

Lorenzo’s lawyer told him that while the district attorney decided whether to accept his case, he could expect to spend the next two months in jail – and out of the classroom.

Ms. Rhodes began working furiously behind the scenes for the drum major’s release. At the same time, a new set of students arrived at Carver with very different legal issues.

Though Carver’s student body had been nearly 100% African American for years, the school – like its sister schools in New Orleans in the Collegiate Academies charter-management organization – was now starting to enroll its first groups of unauthorized immigrants. Many had migrated alone or with other children, unaccompanied by adults, from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, fleeing violence. Immigration officials placed thousands of these children in New Orleans with family members who had been drawn to the area by jobs several years earlier, as the flooded city rebuilt from Hurricane Katrina.

Almost immediately, new students needing help began looking to Ms. Rhodes, a fluent Spanish speaker whose mother emigrated from Colombia. One of Carver’s earliest immigrant arrivals was Monica Zelaya, who enrolled as a freshman after a grueling 17-day journey to the United States. 

Growing up in Choluteca, in south Honduras, Monica was known to be studious. While her cousins would run off to play soccer after school, she’d go home to finish her homework. “Monica, you’re always thinking about the future,” her cousins would tell her. 

When she walked in Carver’s doors, she knew one English sentence: “Hello, I’m Monica.” True to form, she began studying late into the night, repeating phrases and learning new vocabulary from English-language recordings she checked out from the library.

Cheryl Gerber/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Monica Zelaya, a Honduran who came to the U.S. as an unauthorized immigrant, got her residency papers while in high school in New Orleans, graduated with straight A’s, and is now in college.

At Monica’s request, Ms. Rhodes connected her with a lawyer who could help her start the long process of applying for residency. Other immigrant students asked Ms. Rhodes to accompany them to immigration court, a place where parents who were living in the country illegally were wary of going. Initially, she mostly provided language interpretation. But Ms. Rhodes also saw similarities between criminal and immigration courts. In both, her presence in the courtrooms calmed fears and provided context to judges hungry for more information. 

“In criminal courts, you’re saying, ‘This isn’t a bad kid, judge. This is a kid who is developing, growing, and trying to find their way,’” says Mr. Schwartz. “It tells the court, ‘This child is well supported. You can take a risk with this child.’” 

Mr. Schwartz, who co-founded the Juvenile Law Center in Pennsylvania in 1975, says the same goes for immigration courts. “Judges also want to know who this child is in front of them,” he adds. “You’re rounding out a portrait of a kid as a human being.”

Ms. Rhodes knew Lorenzo and his family. She knew his potential and how many arrested students never return to the classroom. 

Though Ms. Rhodes didn’t know yet if Lorenzo’s charges were warranted, she was aware that – even if he was guilty – there is research showing that young people’s still-developing brains make them more susceptible to peer pressure and more amenable to change.

Because of an evolving understanding of neurological development, many judges from the U.S. Supreme Court on down have begun reconsidering how the justice system treats young people. In Louisiana, as in several other states, the legislature recently revised laws that had allowed teens younger than 18 to be treated as adults, though the change has not yet been fully implemented.

Lorenzo had made bad choices, as many teenagers do, but he also excelled in school. It was his escape, a place where he harbored dreams of becoming a mechanical engineer. “Math was my favorite,” he says. “I loved school. I always found a way to make the honor roll.” 

That winter, as Lorenzo sat behind bars, he worried that he wouldn’t be able to catch up and graduate on time. He pictured the band room, where his fellow musicians were spending long hours in rehearsal getting ready for the city’s Carnival parades without him.

In February 2016, he was brought back to court to be formally arraigned. The district attorney had accepted the charges: Lorenzo would be prosecuted on three counts of armed robbery. If he was found guilty, he could serve 15 years in prison, the judge noted.

“I didn’t even know who had been robbed,” Lorenzo says. “But because I was the oldest cousin by a year, the prosecutor was trying hard to give me all the charges.” 

Lorenzo pleaded not guilty. But this time, the judge read Ms. Rhodes’ letter, which included a new paragraph about how Lorenzo had missed two months of school and was in danger of not graduating. 

The judge reduced Lorenzo’s bail. 

Lorenzo’s family still couldn’t afford it, but members of the surrounding 9th Ward community helped raise enough money to secure his release a few days after the arraignment.

“Ms. Rhodes played a big part,” Lorenzo says. “She was really pushing for them to let me out.”

On the day Lorenzo walked out of jail, the city was decorated in purple, green, and gold. It was a week before Mardi Gras, in 2016. Though he had been replaced as drum major, he played in the band’s percussion section for a few evening parades, twirling the cymbals with a special flair. That week, he also had intense conversations with teachers, trying to figure out how to make up for the 60 days he’d missed. 

Many others in his position simply give up: A multiyear study of 1,000 adolescents in Chicago found that arrested teens were 22% more likely to quit school. Not Lorenzo. “I hit the books hard,” he says.

As spring break passed, then prom, all the college-bound seniors that Ms. Rhodes knew were wrapping up their college paperwork. But a Honduran girl who’d had difficulties with her Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, couldn’t complete the process. As Ms. Rhodes attempted to resolve the issue, the girl explained that she didn’t have any legal documents. Without a Social Security number, she could not receive federal financial aid or pay in-state tuition in Louisiana.

Ms. Rhodes wondered if the girl’s situation was more commonplace than she’d realized. Though the number of Central American children entering Carver was rising rapidly, she never knew how many of her new students were living in the country illegally. And she couldn’t ask them to disclose their immigration status – doing so would violate federal law. 

Cheryl Gerber/The Hechinger Report
As many as 1 in 4 students at George Washington Carver High School, a charter school in New Orleans, need legal help each year.

The intersection of immigration law and education is a murky area that few groups fully understand. “I would say there are maybe five organizations like ours across the country,” says Valeria Do Vale, lead coordinator for the Student Immigration Movement, which was started in Boston in 2005 by immigrant students attending high school with hopes of attending college. To expand their scope, the advocates co-founded an organization called Unafraid Educators to organize teachers and help students gain access to college.  

For her part, Ms. Rhodes worried that she and her colleagues had inadvertently misled the first immigrant students with whom they had worked. “We told them, ‘Work hard, keep your grades up, do well on the ACT, and you’ll be fine.’ But then they didn’t qualify for FAFSA. We didn’t know.” 

Still, as the school year closed, Ms. Rhodes saw that her work was also cause for celebration. In May 2016, Lorenzo walked through Carver’s commencement ceremony with his classmates, feeling a burst of pride and affection for high school and the people he’d met there. “I love my teachers; they made me learn,” Lorenzo says. “And I love the people that went to Carver. And I love the Rams. I love Carver forever.”

By the time Lorenzo sat for his graduation photos, Monica was walking Carver’s hallways as a junior feeling much more confident. Her English had significantly improved, and she was earning straight A’s.

As she started her senior year, Monica looked in the mailbox every day for papers granting her permanent residency. But she had heard nothing by January 2017, when her FAFSA was rejected due to “incomplete information” – because she, too, had no Social Security number.

Devastated, she visited Ms. Rhodes’ office, telling her she had been dreaming of college forever. “I felt like I had worked hard for nothing,” she says. 

Ms. Rhodes encouraged Monica to keep her academic focus. In May of that year, Monica graduated near the top of her class, with a 4.5 grade-point average. But college was not yet possible for her. 

Since 2017, Ms. Rhodes has gotten a crash course in college financial aid. For a time, she mulled pushing for in-state tuition for Louisiana’s students who were living in the country illegally. But ultimately, immigration advocates in New Orleans advised her to stick to the basics: Carver’s immigrant students were most likely to make it to college if they became permanent legal residents. 

Cheryl Gerber/The Hechinger Report
Lisa María Rhodes, who founded a nonprofit to help court-involved students, visits with a high schooler.

National data shows that legal help is crucial to that process: A 2014 report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University found that when juveniles in immigration court were helped by a lawyer, the percentage that were allowed to stay in the U.S. jumped from 15% to 73%. In 2018, after waiting a year, Monica got her permanent resident credentials and an all-important Social Security number. She became Carver’s first student to move from unauthorized to documented status and to enroll in college. 

Monica is now in her second year of college courses. She talks about attending law school and becoming a lawyer who can help students navigate the immigration system. “I know what it feels like to be stuck within this process,” she says. “I want to help people who go through it.” 

Within the halls of Carver, word about Ms. Rhodes has gotten out. Now, immigrant students regularly come to her for help and volunteer their immigration status. That level of comfort and trust is unusual.

“For youth without legal status, it can feel dangerous to come out of the woodwork and ask for help,” says Ms. Lee of TeamChild. “So, to gain that trust and catch the cases early is huge – lifesaving, really.” 

Ms. Rhodes is now looking into the possibility of creating a special scholarship fund or in-state tuition awards to help unauthorized immigrants who are enrolled in college and are working toward legal status. In 2019, she formed a new nonprofit called Free Alas to help teachers and social workers in other schools replicate Carver’s legal support. 

Yet Ms. Rhodes’ work isn’t without controversy. Critics question whether schools should be in the business of helping unauthorized immigrants become legal. They argue that it will only encourage more illegal immigration and takes valuable time and resources away from other students. 

“Look, if they have a basis to be in the country – if they are refugees or are granted asylum, then, of course, they should be able to get federal school loans and in-state tuition,” says Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. Without that basis, he says that the school’s approach to these students is ill-advised. “You’re not going to be able to stop the problem of putting minors in this situation if you keep rewarding those who put them there to begin with.” 

Lorenzo’s case was not resolved until nearly two years after his graduation, when he pleaded guilty to lesser charges and received three years’ probation, rather than jail time. Prosecutors were amenable to the plea deal largely because of the dedication he’d shown to his academics and, after graduation, to his job as a manager at Walmart and to his two young daughters, London and Zoey. 

“The idea is not that we help only kids who the court considers innocent,” Ms. Rhodes says. “Lorenzo pleaded guilty to his charges. But look what happened when he was given a second chance.”

Lorenzo has insight into his mistakes. “It was the decisions I was making at the time. That’s what was messing me up. I learned to think for myself, to use my own brain,” he says. He hopes to have completed his coursework for a commercial driver’s license by the time he gets off probation next year. “I’m a whole lot smarter in the things I choose to do.”

Though Ms. Rhodes has now helped hundreds of students return to school or apply for permanent residency, Lorenzo is special. After all, his case helped to launch the efforts that would eventually become Free Alas. 

“Getting out and going on with his life helped his case,” Ms. Rhodes says. “Now he’s able to work and go to school. And at the end of every day, he comes home and tucks in his two little girls.”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. 

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A letter from

Romania

4. A 12th-century village endures

We visited a Transylvania town that’s leveraging its history to draw tourists and is rebuilding a sense of community.

David
David Karas
The medieval fortified church in Viscri, Romania, is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Transylvanian village has seen a revival in recent years, in part thanks to tourism-boosting efforts.

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Caroline Fernolend traces her family’s roots in Viscri, Romania, back to 1142. The historic Saxon village in Transylvania veered toward collapse after the 1989 fall of communism. “We gained freedom,” she says. “But we lost the community.”

As director of Mihai Eminescu Trust, a British nongovernmental organization operating in Romania, Ms. Fernolend has helped lead Viscri’s revitalization by engaging the Saxons, Roma, and Romanians who remain. Over the past two decades, the trust has worked to preserve the region’s ethnic and cultural heritage with more than 1,240 projects, including conservation efforts, youth education, job training for locals, and the planting of more than 2.5 million trees. 

Marlies Markel recalls the village in the 1990s when her family relocated from Germany: no sewage system, abandoned houses, and few cars. “It seemed that the modern times didn’t want to touch the villages at the heart of Transylvania,” Ms. Markel says in an email interview.

She credits the trust for raising the living standards of the village, which now attracts some 50,000 visitors annually. In warmer months, tourists invade Viscri’s medieval fortified church, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Ms. Markel says, “Viscri transformed into a village where it’s worth living.”

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A 12th-century village endures

On a chilly January afternoon, a dog trails Cristian Radu as he walks the unpaved roads of Viscri, Romania. The small Saxon village of whitewashed walls and red-tiled roofs sits below a medieval fortified church, a UNESCO World Heritage site that tourists invade in warmer weather. Mr. Radu remembers how, three decades ago, his remote Transylvanian community was on the verge of collapse.

“The village started to decay,” he says. “It was traumatic.”

The 1989 fall of communism in Romania cued an exodus of Transylvanian Saxons – ethnic Germans who settled in the region starting in the 12th century. Roma people began to take up residence in many of the abandoned homes. Mr. Radu and partners have been working to lure visitors back to Viscri by highlighting its Saxon history. 

Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Only a handful of Saxons remain in Viscri. The village of an estimated few hundred residents – mostly Roma and Romanians – now thrives on tourism with some 50,000 annual visitors, according to Mr. Radu, the manager of Experience Transylvania.

The business operates a network of refurbished Saxon guest houses with wooden furnishings, where local families cook traditional Romanian cuisine for visitors. Local trades include blacksmithing and knitting, with techniques inherited from the village elders. Passing horses as he walks, Mr. Radu points out small, blue plaques on the front of many houses. It’s the logo of a British nongovernmental organization operating in Romania that he and other locals credit as a driver of Viscri’s revitalization. 

Named after a famous Romanian poet, the Mihai Eminescu Trust (MET) was established in London in 1987 to keep Romanian intellectuals in touch with the West amid oppression by the communist regime. The NGO began its advocacy efforts in Romania in 1989, calling out communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu’s plans to demolish thousands of historical villages.  

Today, Experience Transylvania manages several traditional guesthouses owned by the trust. Over the past two decades, the trust has worked to preserve the region’s ethnic and cultural heritage with more than 1,240 projects costing over €10 million.

Funded by various NGOs and government grants, including $500,000 from the U.S. Embassy, the projects involve façade improvements, large-scale conservation projects, youth education efforts, job training for locals, and the planting of more than 2.5 million trees throughout Transylvania. Francesc Pla, program manager at the Council of Europe’s Culture and Cultural Heritage Division, describes the trust as “potential inspiration for other rural regions of Europe.”

Courtesy of Mihai Eminescu Trust
Mihai Eminescu Trust director Caroline Fernolend speaks at the launch of Transilvania Live, a series of regional cultural events, in Sighișoara, Romania, in March 2019. Her family traces its ancestry in Viscri back to 1142.

MET director Caroline Fernolend, an ethnic German who grew up in Viscri, traces her family’s ancestry here back to 1142. After the fall of communism, she left her accounting career to pursue her dream as a teacher, and spent nine years encouraging Roma to send their children to school. The experience compelled her to do more for her village, where “we gained freedom, but we lost the community.” 

In 2000, her family was one of five to operate guest houses in Viscri. Today, her NGO has spread to 115 communities, working hand in hand with both Roma and Romanians on conservation, education, and training projects. “We can see that the quality of life improves, that the families can send their children to school, that their living conditions are better, and that they do not have to live abroad to work; they can stay with their families,” she says at the MET office in the city of Sighișoara.

Marlies Markel recalls Viscri in the 1990s when her family moved there from Germany: no sewage system, abandoned houses, and few cars. “It seemed that the modern times didn’t want to touch the villages at the heart of Transylvania,” Ms. Markel says in an email interview. She credits MET for raising the living standards. “Viscri transformed into a village where it’s worth living.” 

Mr. Radu points out various MET projects on his walk, including public toilets and a parking lot designed to lessen the impact of vehicular traffic. The trust also established the first ecological wastewater system in Romania.

“We started to develop a pride of living in the village,” he says. “You can preserve heritage, and it is profitable.”

Jacob Turcotte/Staff
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Points of Progress

What's going right

5. Where people live without plastic

This is more than feel-good news. It's where the world is making concrete progress. A roundup of positive stories to inspire you.

David
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Where people live without plastic

Worldwide 

Carbon emissions from the global electricity system fell by 2% in 2019, the largest such drop in 30 years, according to a report from the climate think tank Ember. The decrease comes as the United States and European Union increasingly eschew coal-generated electricity in favor of gas and renewables. Worldwide output from coal power plants contracted by 3% last year, falling by a quarter in the EU and 16% in the U.S. Solar and wind power, meanwhile, rose 15%, accounting for 8% of the world’s electricity generation. The report warned that some of the recent decrease is a product of mild winters and that much more dramatic action is needed from governments and businesses to avoid the worst effects of climate change. (The Guardian)

Nick Oxford/Reuters/file
Wind turbines in Texas are helping reduce America’s reliance on fossil fuels, such as coal. Globally, emissions from electricity use fell at an unprecedented rate in 2019.

1. Ireland

The Pritzker Architecture Prize, the field’s highest award, was jointly awarded to two women for the first time. Irish architects Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell received the prize after 42 years of working together at their Dublin-based firm, Grafton Architects. Only three other women, two of them in collaboration with male architects, have received the award since its establishment in 1979. Sarah Whiting, dean of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, says this year’s prize reflects the increased number of women in architecture. (NPR)

Federico Brunetti/Pritzker Prize/AP/File
Irish architects Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara earned architecture’s highest award for designing buildings such this one at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy.

2. United Kingdom

Across the United Kingdom, 104 communities have been awarded Plastic Free Community status, up from just one in 2017, and more than 500 others are seeking the accreditation. The increase is largely a product of the Plastic Free Communities initiative, a grassroots campaign led by Surfers Against Sewage, a Cornwall-based conservation nonprofit that awards the accreditation. To receive the status, which does not mean the area is completely devoid of single-use plastics, locales must follow a five-point plan focused on community-based advocacy and regulation. Totally eliminating single-use plastics in these areas, advocates say, will require wider reform from larger corporations. (HuffPost)

3. The Netherlands

Around 75% of commercial vessels on the waters of Amsterdam are now emissions-free. Canal boats, the city’s most popular tourist attraction, are converting to electric power as part of a push from Amsterdam’s new mayor, who has called for a ban on diesel engines in city waters by 2025. Retrofitting existing craft with new electric engines is much cheaper than building new vessels, and the government aims to have 100 boat-charging stations operational by the end of next year. The city estimates that only about 5% of Amsterdam’s total 12,000 recreational vessels qualify as emissions-free. (Reuters)

Eva Plevier/Reuters
Amsterdam’s canal boats, like this electric one, are increasingly being converted to electric power as the city attempts to reduce its carbon footprint.

4. Serbia

A surprising tech renaissance in Serbia is helping reverse brain drain in the Balkan country’s economy. Serbia’s technology industry now accounts for at least 6% of gross domestic product and employs around 45,000 people. Tech exports reached $1.5 billion in 2019, up 55% from two years before. The sector’s growth has attracted investment from large corporations such as Microsoft, and the national government, which has poured tens of millions of dollars into improved tech education and digital infrastructure. While hundreds of thousands of well-educated Serbs have emigrated since strongman Slobodan Milosevic lost power in 2000, new opportunities for employment in information technology are encouraging citizens to return to or stay in their country of birth. (The Economist and Reuters)

5. Hong Kong

A Hong Kong court ruled that married same-sex couples have the right to apply for public housing. In one of the world’s most expensive cities – where almost half of the population of 7 million relies on public housing – the ruling will increase access to affordable housing for LGBTQ residents. While Hong Kong decriminalized homosexuality in 1991, it still does not recognize same-sex marriage. Despite maintaining a ban on same-sex civil partnerships last year, Hong Kong has seen a recent uptick in LGBTQ rights, with court rulings granting same-sex partners the right to dependent visas and spousal benefits. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)

Staff
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The Monitor's View

Europe rises from its sickbed

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If you tally what ails the European Union – coronavirus lockdowns, looming recession, resurgent nationalism, Brexit – it is amazing the EU still holds together as a home for 27 nations. Yet this week, the union’s leaders are expected to approve membership talks with two countries, Albania and North Macedonia. Instead of cowering before illness and other turmoil, this community of nearly 450 million people seeks to expand itself.

Such confidence in the EU’s health and its power of attraction befits a proclamation made last year by Ursula von der Leyen, president of the bloc’s executive body. She said Europe must step up its role in the world. That role includes making sure Europe’s most troubled corner, the Balkans, is brought into the EU fold.

By opening talks with the two countries, the EU hopes to further push along their reforms. The bloc also seeks to counter the growing influence of Russia and China in the region. Most of all, the EU wants to show that its goal of creating a “common home” for Europe is alive and well.

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Europe rises from its sickbed

If you tally what ails the European Union – coronavirus lockdowns, looming recession, resurgent nationalism, Brexit – it is amazing the EU still holds together as a “home” for 27 nations with shared values. Yet this week, the union’s leaders are expected to approve membership talks with two countries, Albania and North Macedonia.

Instead of cowering before illness and other turmoil, this community of nearly 450 million people seeks to expand itself.

Such confidence in the EU’s health and its power of attraction befits a proclamation made last year by Ursula von der Leyen, the first female president of the bloc’s executive body. She said Europe must “step up” its role in the world.

That role includes making sure Europe’s most troubled corner, the Balkans, is finally brought into the EU fold. Two of the region’s nations, Croatia and Slovenia, have already joined the EU. Montenegro and Serbia are negotiating accession to the union. Meanwhile, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina are “candidates” for formal talks.

Progress to implant democracy and rule of law in these parts of former Yugoslavia has been slow. Ethnic nationalism is still strong. Bosnia-Herzegovina has not recovered from the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Serbian forces. Kosovo has yet to be fully recognized as a sovereign nation.

But North Macedonia and Albania (which was not part of Yugoslavia) have now implemented enough reforms to open a door for EU membership. There is no guarantee they will ultimately join the bloc. Both must show progress in tackling corruption and other problems. Albania in particular is in a political stalemate between its two major parties.

By opening talks with the two countries, however, the EU hopes to further push along their reforms. The bloc also seeks to counter the growing influence of Russia and China in the region.

Most of all, the EU wants to show that its basic goal of creating a “common home” for Europe is alive and well. Its won’t-you-be-my-neighbor invitation to two potential members is a way to expand the EU’s sense of belonging on the Continent.

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A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Living in the atmosphere of God’s goodness

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Even when illness seems unavoidable, it is possible to overcome fear – and experience protection and safety as well, as a woman experienced during a mononucleosis outbreak at her college.

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Living in the atmosphere of God’s goodness

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition
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Many have expressed fears about the effects of the coronavirus in their communities and beyond. And some have observed that fear itself is a contagion that needs to be held in check, too.

From my study and practice of Christian Science, I’ve found that it is indeed possible to overcome fear – in a way that brings healing and safety as well.

The Apostle John taught, “Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love takes away fear” (I John 4:18, International Children’s Bible). God’s love is more powerful than either fear or disease. And when we learn, as Christ Jesus taught, that the kingdom of God is already within us, then we find we have nothing to fear. And we more readily witness the power of God’s love to heal and protect.

One year when I was in college, there was an epidemic of mononucleosis on our campus. More and more students were being taken to the hospital. At one point, one of my friends said to me, “Tina, you’re going to be the next one to get this illness, because you were with those students who went to the hospital yesterday.”

This woke me up to the need to do more to support my and my community’s well-being than succumb to fear. For me, this meant praying to gain a deeper, spiritual view of who is truly in control and what our true nature is as God’s beloved children.

So I turned to my Bible, where I found these passages very comforting: “The spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life” (Job 33:4), and “I know that whatever God does, it endures forever; nothing can be added to it nor can anything be taken from it” (Ecclesiastes 3:14, Amplified Bible).

This helped me see that the goodness God gives us is eternal. Nothing bad, such as disease, can be added to divine good, nor can proper functioning be taken from it. The Apostle Paul tells us that God, Spirit, “giveth to all life, and breath, and all things;... in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:25, 28). So the actual substance of our health is in and sustained by divine Spirit.

Since God, Spirit, is eternally harmonious, perfect in every function and action, and unchangingly supreme, then the atmosphere in which we – the spiritual expression of God’s goodness – live and move and breathe must be always good. Health rather than disease, harmony rather than discord, are natural to God’s creation, and cannot be lost. This spiritual reality remains unchanged, regardless of human circumstance.

My prayers embraced not just myself, but all humanity. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, highlights that everyone is governed by the one divine Mind, God, which communicates only health, peace, and freedom to His children (see, for instance, p. 467). All of us have an inherent capacity to be conscious of this divine good. Then we find less fear and more peace in our lives.

That’s what I experienced that time at college. I never had any symptoms, and furthermore, there was a turnaround in the situation on campus. No more students were sent to the hospital with this condition.

We read in the Bible, “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not:... Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace” (Psalms 37:35-37). Evil, including illness, has no legitimate power in the face of the authority of God, good. As God’s beloved children – His flawless, spiritual reflection – we live and move and breathe in this atmosphere of pure Love.

No matter where we live in the world, we can hold to the true nature of everyone as made in the flawless spiritual image of divine Love, God, who maintains us in that harmonious state eternally. This empowers us to overcome fear and feel God’s healing love, which fills all space.

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Viewfinder

Jumping for joy

Andrew Couldridge/Reuters
Milly, 7, jumps on a trampoline as she takes a break from home schooling in Hertford, England, March 24, 2020.
( The illustrations in today's Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )
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In Our Next Issue

( March 25th, 2020 )

David Clark Scott
Audience Engagement Editor

Thanks for joining us. Come back tomorrow. We’re working on a story about a science project for homebound kids involving ice and string. 

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