Grieving Houston Students’ Wellbeing at Risk as COVID-19 Funds Diminish

Every day when he finished his shift as a machine operator, Eliberto Ortega used to enter his east Houston home, take off his steel-toed work boots, and call out, “¿Quién es la princesa de Papá?” which means, “Who is Daddy’s princess?”

His daughter would respond with her own name, running into his arms. Ortega would lift up his little girl, and after a hug, she would ask to take his lunchbox into the kitchen.

It has been more than two years since Ortega’s daughter, now 8 years old and a third-grader at J.R. Harris Elementary School in Houston ISD, has felt her father’s embrace.

Ortega died of cardiac arrest while sick with COVID-19 in July 2021. Since then, his daughter and her 7-year-old brother have felt a void in their lives. His daughter still has trouble sleeping at night as memories of her dad fill her thoughts. His son has become more introverted, listening to music about loss and longing.

“We still have an invisible string connecting us to him all the way up to heaven,” said Ortega’s daughter, whose name is being withheld for privacy reasons. “He’s with you. It

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