Teachers often feel the tug—from parents, community members, and their own heartstrings—to go the extra mile for the students in their care, far beyond the hours of the school day or the walls of the classroom. Nowhere is that truer than in the home Luciana Lira, a Stamford ESL/native language and bilingual teacher who is now caring for a newborn whose parents and older brother—one of her Hart Magnet Elementary School students—tested positive for COVID-19.
Weeks ago, while the Stamford teacher was in the thick of adapting to remote teaching after schools closed, she received an unexpected call from the mother of one of her seven-year-old students. The woman, a Guatemalan asylum seeker, could barely speak or breathe. Clearly distressed, Zully was calling from the hospital, where she was in labor several weeks early. With no else she could contact, she reached out to her son’s teacher and asked Lira if she could get in touch with her husband, who is unable to speak, read, or write in English. Then she asked Lira if she could come to the hospital; she had just been diagnosed with COVID-19 and was about to deliver.
Lira immediately contacted the baby’s father, Marvin, and rushed to meet him at the hospital, adhering to the strict six-foot guidance for social distancing. Zully was placed on a ventilator, and her baby was delivered by emergency C-section.
Both parents feared the worse—that everyone in the family, including seven-year-old Junior, would test positive for COVID-19 and that newborn baby Neysel’s life was at risk. They asked Lira, someone they barely knew but innately trusted, if she would take the baby home with her, at least until their test results came back.
A week later, test results were in. Although father and son were asymptomatic, they were in fact both infected. Zully remained in intensive care.
Praising the quick-acting teacher, the newborn’s pediatrician noted that had baby Neysel gone home, the outcome for the family could have been tragic. Neysel, fortunately, tested negative for the virus.
Someone to count on
“It was an honor that my student’s parents came to me, that in their time of need, they felt like they could count on me,” says Lira, who is temporarily balancing life with a newborn, her own 11-year-old son, and her husband, who is also working long hours from home.
When CEA spoke with Lira one recent afternoon, many hours into her school day, she had not yet had a chance to eat breakfast, and the sounds of a baby cooing on her arm could be heard through the phone. (She plans to care for Neysel until his family has made a full recovery.)
“I am one of the only teachers in my school who speaks Spanish, so I am working night and day to support my students,” she said. She is also a strong advocate for her students’ families and has created a GoFundMe page to help those like Zully and Marvin.
“Everyone needs access to medical care and testing,” she says. “People need help and support.”
Friend and colleague Joy Colon has known Lira since the time both women were pursuing their master’s degrees.
“From the moment I met Luciana,” she says, “I knew we would be friends. She has a kind and gentle way about her that draws you in.”
Lighting the way
Like teachers throughout the state, Colon is deeply cognizant of the daily challenges that come with sheltering in place, including teaching from home while often caring for family members under the same roof. For Lira, however, she says, “The role of teacher has been altered forever. We’re all at home, working and groping for an understanding of this new normal that caught all of us off guard. But Luciana’s unselfish act reminds us that our humanity makes us all essential.”
“We are here for our students, and we’re here for our families,” said Lira. “We always have been.”