as the pandemic wears on, Rodger Aguayaza, 14, is choosing to start high school online

Rodger Aguayaza helps a customer pick out a pair of shoes.

Every day for the past four months, Rodger Aguayaza, 14, has woken up at 8 a.m. to work alongside his mother, Susana Maldonado, selling shoes, bags and earrings from behind a folding table at the bustling intersection of 145th Street and Broadway. 

Next Wednesday, however, Rodger will stay home to attend his first day of online classes at the Manhattan Business Academy. It will be his first day of high school, but Rodger is worried that he might sleep straight through it. After his school transitioned to virtual classes in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, he found himself staying up and sleeping in late. 

“Once, I was up late playing video games with my friends and then I woke up around 2 p.m.. So I missed all my classes that day,” said Rodger. 

With his mom at work, there’s no one at home to make sure he attends his online classes, and he predicts that he’ll fall into the same pattern once school starts again. Even so, Rodger said that both he and his mom were definitely against in-person classes due to the risk of catching the virus. 

“We both agreed on online. 100%,” he explained. 

Since the pandemic began, Rodger and his mother have tried to be as careful as possible. They no longer use public transportation, and Rodger hangs out with his friends online and through video games instead of in person. But selling their wares requires interacting with the public. 

“A lot of people pass by, so I worry a lot,” he said, and turned to help the next customer.

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Rose Gilbert is a student at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, covering topics including Harlem and small businesses in New York City.
Before enrolling at Columbia, she was a senior news reporter at the Daily Princetonian, writing about migration policy, graduate student affairs and protests at Princeton University. Twitter: @rosegilbert99, Instagram: @roseamgilbert.

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