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Navajo school fights to overcome virus

PINON, Arizona (AP) — One student runs 85 feet up a hill every morning, just to get a cellphone signal so he can call in his attendance. Another moved to Phoenix by himself, after his only parent died of COVID-19, to work construction while going to school online.

Then there’s the high school senior who spends six hours most days doing homework in a car next to a school bus turned Wi-Fi hotspot – the only way some kids on the Navajo Nation can get assignments to their teachers.

These kids share a dream: to graduate high school, find a way to go to college, get a degree, land a dream job – get out of their small town, succeed and soar.

Even in the best of times, that dream is harder for Native American students to attain. And now COVID-19 has brought one of the greatest challenges yet to these young people.

For them, it’s about so much more than being separated from friends or having to figure out how to use Zoom. All that isolation and upheaval has been accompanied by death and great loss.

Across the Navajo reservation, victims of COVD-19 include parents and grandparents, sole guardians and providers, mentors and teachers. Without them, some students have lost their way or, quite literally, fallen off the map.

Said one district superintendent: “We have some kids that we just don’t know where they are.”

The drive from Flagstaff northeast to Piñon takes more than two hours over a two-lane highway and dirt road. Just a few hundred families live in this community, in modest houses scattered across hills roamed by horses and dotted with brush.

A single campus accommodates the elementary, middle and high schools.

Here, on a reservation the size of West Virginia, the COVID-19 death rate has been higher than that of any U.S. state. So even as some schools reopened for in-person learning this fall, those on the Navajo reservation did not.

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