Children and Youth

Teacher aims to keep most vulnerable kids playing during shelter-in-place

Michelle Perez-Picha at San Juan School gave out puzzles, card and board games.
Among the the toys given out on Friday are chalk, bingo and paint sets. Photo provided by Michelle Perez-Picha.
Among the the toys given out on Friday are chalk, bingo and paint sets. Photo provided by Michelle Perez-Picha.

Watching her 11-year-old daughter jump on her trampoline and make forts in the living room during the county’s shelter-in-place order, San Juan School teacher Michelle Perez-Picha thought of those students who don’t have the same luxury.

With 342 San Juan School students staying at home, those living in poverty may face additional challenges such as food insecurity, being home alone, domestic abuse and overcrowding. 

“Many families in our community live paycheck to paycheck; multigenerational or extended families live in one home to survive the expense of rent,” Perez-Picha said. 

According to U.S. Census data, 7.4% of San Juan Bautista’s 1,965 residents in 2018 lived in poverty. That year, the median household income was $79,375 and the median home value was $546,500.

“The reality is several of our students would rather be at school than at home. The structure, the reliability and the love they receive at school is crucial,” Perez-Picha said.

As she observed her daughter, she recalled conversations she has had with her students, where they shared how they did not have a quiet place to read, be alone or practice mindfulness at home, because they live with too many people. Perez-Picha said some students’ access to supplies is so limited that she regularly lends students glue, paint and other items for art projects.

“And that’s when it all came to me, that if I can gather some activities it would help them fill some of that lonely time at home. Humans are social animals, and this time at home can be depressing for adults and kids.” 

Digging further into her classroom experience, Perez-Picha thought of how much her students love playing with jigsaw puzzles, which they might do after finishing a test early or on a rainy day. Some students enjoy the puzzles, board games and card games so much that they would prefer to spend their recess time in her classroom. 

“These games and puzzles are likely found in most homes, but often not in homes where getting food on the table is a priority and a struggle,” Perez-Picha said. 

As she considered ways to help the most vulnerable students during this time, she decided to reach out to the community through Facebook. Then she picked up puzzles from the Garden Shoppe in Hollister, Dulce Rivera and from Andrea Carr Balestrieri, a fellow school teacher. 

Perez-Picha said she would like to collect new, unopened puzzles, art supplies and board/card games that can be distributed to students who need them during the shelter-in-place order.

“I think my point is to realize the importance of community responsibility and if you do, be of service,” Perez-Picha said.


Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is BenitoLink Co-Editor and Content Manager. He joined BenitoLink as reporter intern and was soon brought on staff as a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. He is a San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily. He is a USC Center for Health Journalism 2020 California Fellow.