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Stories of 2020: North Texans Reflect on the Year

from a mother whose sons contracted COVID-19 to Texas’ Teacher of the Year, North Texans reflect on a year unlike any other

Was there ever a year more unexpected than this one? Everything we anticipated when we rang in 2020, all our plans for activities, travel, work, school—most of that didn’t come to pass. The pandemic affected each of us in different ways. From the stress to the sadness to the blessings, we all have a story to tell. As 2020 draws to an end, we asked community members to share their experiences.


Catherine Carlton, an Arlington mom, worked hard to protect her family from the virus. But earlier this year, two of her three children—Scott, 11, Jeffrey, 9, and Jennifer, 6—had tested positive for COVID-19.

When we first heard about COVID, we really hunkered down. At about 8 weeks old, our son, Scotty, was diagnosed with Lissencephaly, which translates to “smooth brain.” His needs are like that of a 3-month-old. He needs help with everything. For him, a cold can last weeks and the flu involves the hospital. We thought COVID would be a death sentence.

We still don’t know how he got it. It was a Monday in July when he began to get sick. It was a different kind of sick for him. It was like his organs started to shut down. He ended up staying at Cook Children’s for four days. It’s tough in the COVID unit because you can’t leave the room and visitors aren’t allowed, but we knew he was getting the best care.

My husband Jeff stayed with Scotty, and I stayed home with the other kids. We immediately got tested, which confirmed that Jeffrey was also positive. Thankfully, he only had symptoms for a few days. Of course, because we had COVID in the house, we had to quarantine for 24 days. Jeffrey wore a mask at all times and stayed at a 6-foot distance. He understood the importance of protecting us, and I’m so proud of him for how he handled it.

We have an amazing network of friends and family who sent cards and delivered meals. We felt connected to the people we know and love, even though we couldn’t see them. We’re thankful for the support we had during that time. And we’re very thankful that Scotty got better. We couldn’t believe it when he was released.

We’re hopeful that sharing our story highlights the importance of how scary [COVID-19] is and how children can get it. Other families are facing what we faced every day, and we know it’s hard. The really scary part is, we still don’t know the long-term effects. Scotty is back to baseline for him. Jeffrey has lingering headaches, which are attributed to COVID. We have to stay vigilant.

Our kids are in virtual school and I go to work, but we have safety protocols in place. We limit our social interactions and keep outings to the essentials.

There have been silver linings, though. We’ve created some new traditions. The kids have become avid readers, so that’s wonderful. And my husband and I go for long walks in the morning and debrief at the end of the day over a carton of ice cream, which is fun.


Dominique Anderson is a Fort Worth mother of two and a small-business owner heavily impacted by the pandemic.

I’ve been providing commercial video and photography services for 13 years. Last year was the biggest year ever for my business, Blissful Sky Studio. My numbers were awesome, and I was booking dream clients. When coronavirus hit in March, I was on vacation with my family. Clients started sending cancellations and none were rebooking. Many were scrambling. The last thing they wanted to think about was their marketing videos.

My husband is also a business owner. But he works in commercial heating, air conditioning and refrigeration, so he didn’t see the drastic drop in business I saw. My daughters—Cheyenne, 11, and Dakota, 8—attend Fort Worth ISD. We were just waiting to see what was going to happen. Are we going to be off of school? Are we going back to school? Are we going to be online?

I kept thinking things would get better. I thought people were blowing it out of proportion and it would be over in a few weeks. Weeks turned into months, and my kids were still at home. Clients still weren’t rebooking. I had zero work from early May through July.

I’ve struggled with anxiety but have been able to manage it pretty well. I was really sad this summer. I didn’t feel like myself. I’m a person of faith, so prayer helped a lot. It was a blessing getting to spend more time at home with my family. We did a lot of cooking and baking. We camped a lot.

I am feeling better now. My outlook has changed. In August, work started trickling in slowly. Then, all of a sudden, it exploded. It’s really exceeded my expectations. The girls are back at school in person, and things are going okay. My youngest has asthma, which is a concern. But she’s doing well. We’re slowly getting back to our routine, but it does look different.

I’m looking forward to being able to shake hands and hug again. I’ve missed that. I know my girls are looking forward to being able to reconnect with all of their friends.

I’m still learning from all of this. We’ve had to have hard discussions as a family. We considered homeschooling. We were also considering private schooling. I’m optimistic that the girls are going to finish the school year at Fort Worth ISD, but we’re considering other options.

I’m just trying to stay flexible. I want to keep my girls healthy. I want to keep myself healthy, so I can be there for my family and for my clients. That’s my focus right now.


The pandemic has been especially taxing on health care workers and their families. Emily Phillips, the Celina wife of an ER physician and a mother of three, sought a place for her husband to isolate after contact with patients. That request led her to Holly Haggard, a Proper resident with a RV. Together, the women founded RVs for MDs—connecting RV owners with frontline workers who need to isolate.

Emily Phillips: [When the pandemic began,] we didn’t know what we were dealing with. Sometimes, my husband sees up to 50 people a day with COVID, then comes home and puts his doctor’s bag on the counter. He reassures me he wouldn’t put our family in harm’s way. It caused a lot of tension because I was scared. It’s been hard on our marriage, and Jason is stressed.

Holly Haggard: [RVs for MDs] all started with a Facebook post. On March 22, my RVs for MDs cofounder, Emily Phillips, posted that she wanted to rent an RV for her husband Jason, who’s an ER doctor. She was worried about their three kids, knowing he might bring germs into the home after shifts at the hospital.

After seeing Emily’s post, a mutual friend reached out to see if I knew anyone could help. I said, “My mom has a camper that she gave to us to sell. They can use it for as long they need. We don’t want any rent for it. Just tell them to pay it forward.”

I connected with Emily, and we began to wonder if there might be others who’d be willing to help. We started posting to our personal pages and people kept sharing, and sharing and sharing. On March 24, Emily created a Facebook group, RVs for MDs to Fight the Coronavirus, and within a week, 10,000 people had joined. Within two weeks, we had over 30,000 people join. It just blew up from there. We’ve probably matched close to 1,700 RVs with MDs.

It’s meant so much to RV owners to be able to help, instead of just sitting back and watching. It gives them purpose. And the recipients are so grateful and appreciative. I can’t even imagine what it’s like for those with family members on the frontlines. We’ve been very blessed. My husband is retired and takes care of our kids—Jace, 8, and Emma, 7—while I work from home.

We’re taking everything one day at a time and living each day to its fullest, grateful that we’re where we are and that we’ve been able to give back.

EP: [My husband Jason] spent a couple of months isolating in the RV, but eventually moved back home. RVs for MDs was a great experience. Everybody came together and was helping each other. I’ll always be proud of it. But for Jason, the isolation was just too hard. We realized this could go on for years.

We’re looking forward to just being able to stop worrying about [Jason] catching it. I get tested weekly. The older kids are in school and going about their regular activities, but it’s been really hard to not be able to see my parents as much. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but you can’t live in fear every day. We’ll just have to see.


Anika Chebrolu, a 14-year-old Frisco girl, became America’s Top Young Scientist after winning a 3M competition. She is using her love of science to help find a cure for COVID-19.

When I first heard about COVID-19, I didn’t think too much about it. I wondered if people were overreacting and never imagined it would affect the world so severely. The pandemic turned my life upside down, and I’m sure many others feel the same way. Activities that used to be part of my day-to-day are much more confined. Contact with friends is extremely restricted. Who could have imagined we’d need to attend school virtually?

To add to all that, there’s a constant fear of yourself or a loved one getting infected.

I’d like to go into a biology-related field or become a medical researcher or doctor. So before the pandemic, I was developing research on possible treatments for influenza. When my older brother told me about the 3M Young Scientist Challenge, I quickly filmed a submission based on my influenza research. In May, they announced I’d made the top 10, and I met my 3M mentor, Dr. Mahfuza Ali. We decided I should pivot my research to cover COVID-19.

My study used in-silico methodology to discover a molecule that can potentially bind to the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a very important protein involved in the infectivity of the virus. I didn’t expect to win. When I heard my name called as America’s Top Young Scientist, it took me a couple of minutes to believe it.

Along with the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist,” I received a $25,000 cash prize. I plan to use it to further my research and to fund my nonprofit, AcademyAid, which provides materials to underprivileged children. I’ll save the rest for college.

The pandemic has changed almost everything. I miss being able to connect with people freely. Online school is extremely different, but this is a first-time situation for everyone and I’m thankful to teachers for all they’re doing to create a good experience. When life begins to return to normal, I look forward to going back to school, meeting new people and spending time with friends.

Editor’s note: Learn more about Anika’s nonprofit at academyaid.org.


Texas’ reigning Teacher of the Year, Eric Hale, teaches first and second grades at Dallas ISD’s Burnet Elementary School. Hale shares what it’s like to teach children (many of them living below the poverty line) in these unprecedented times.

For me, the pandemic created a character-check moment. Are you going to step up to the challenge? Are you truly as good as people say you are? Do you care as much as you say you care? I chose to forgo my summer and instead work with my school community all summer long, providing resources to the children I serve. As a community, we decided to focus on the “thrive” and not the “survive.” We face unforeseen obstacles in the community that I serve every day. This was just another one.

We’ve been fighting the good fight ever since. Now, we’re back in person—I have a couple of kids who are still learning virtually—and we’re giving it all we’ve got to fight for educational survival. I refuse for my kids to drown. It’s been tough, but Dallas ISD did a phenomenal job with closing the digital divide. They also did a wonderful job providing meals to our school community all summer long.

When it came to my students, I decided that I didn’t want to wait to see what was going to happen. So I advocated for my students at Texas A&M-Commerce, which supplied each one of my students with a laptop and a hotspot. Now they have the technology that the district provided, as well.

We’re seeing teachers across the nation go above and beyond right now. It’s an incredible undertaking. It’s become apparent that educators are the engine to American society—and how truly hard it is to do what we do. Even for the best-prepared, best-financed parents, it takes a lot to teach a child. I had to mold myself into the 21st-century teacher children need in this pandemic.

I still try to create a magical atmosphere in my classroom, whether that’s digital or in person, but it’s been extremely challenging.

Children can feel the love and the energy that comes out of me. They feed off of that energy and give back to me. That cycle of loving, learning, moving and grooving is constantly being unplugged—so it’s definitely twice as hard. I can’t wait to get back to classroom dance parties and field trips. Representation matters so much to the children that I serve, so going on field trips and exposing them to great, authentic leaders in the community is a big part of what I do in creating that culture of care.

To be honest, I don’t feel safe in the classroom. But I know that the children I serve need me now more than ever. The joy that I get from my students is stronger than any fear I have for my well-being. There have been teachers that have lost their lives due to contact with COVID, and that weighs heavily on many educators.

It’s not easy, which is why I encourage parents to give teachers grace. Everybody is learning on the fly, trying to redefine themselves and find their pandemic teacher voice. We’ll continue to give you grace, too. There’s no playbook for this and it’s not going to be perfect, but if you give your best effort, I promise you, your child will be OK.

Image courtesy of iStock.