Virtually Impossible: 4 Kids and One Laptop


Parents everywhere are navigating a school year unlike any other.

Even before COVID-19, the families served by Baltimore City Public Schools had to contend with their children lacking even the most basic protections, like heat and air conditioning. In this deeply underfunded district, where 77% of students are Black, virtual learning hits families without stable homes hardest. And no amount of willpower from single moms like Sylvia* can shift these structural barriers overnight.

"This year is going to be very, very stressful. Having four kids to do assignments and only one laptop is very stressful," Sylvia sighs. "My pay is not enough to cover the bills. If I leave the house for work, who will care for my kids?"

Sylvia immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria four years ago. While caring for her family in a shelter, she connected with Health Care for the Homeless providers and eventually moved into an apartment in Parkville, a home that she’s trying her hardest to hold onto.

"Sylvia has this amazing balance of patience with unhelpful systems, self-advocacy and hard work," explains Dr. Iris Leviner, Director of Pediatric and Family Medicine. "And through it all, she has helped her kids to be very successful in school. In fact, one of the twins is at the top of the class despite all of the stress they are under."

Still, Sylvia worries that virtual learning will set her kids back—like in the spring when her daughter didn’t have a computer. She’s been in touch with the school principal to request laptops and is working with pediatric social worker Debbie Wilcox to reinforce those needs.

Meanwhile, the anxiety and stress are taking their toll. "I was down a little bit," Sylvia says, sharing that she went to the hospital for stress. "I’m trying to calm myself down and reduce my workload."

Iris says, "As this tragedy unfolds in our country, the most vulnerable families are bearing the brunt. We’re trying to help parents draw on their strengths—despite so many barriers. But it doesn’t feel like enough."

*Sylvia is a pseudonym

Learn more about the barriers that families are facing this year

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