Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 5
Courtesy of Madeline Peña
Who Died From Coronavirus
'There was a better fate for her'
By Christina A. Samuels
Yasmin Peña had artistic talents in
abundance: She danced, she drew,
she sang, she sculpted.
But the bubbly high school student's heart was in fashion design,
which she wanted to pursue professionally. A senior at Waterbury Arts
Magnet School in Waterbury, Conn.,
she had even designed her own prom
dress: a high hem in the front, low in
the back, and purple, her favorite
Yasmin, 18, died from COVID-19
on April 12, a rare young victim of the
novel coronavirus. As of the beginning of May, only one death has been
recorded among children and youth
ages 10 to 19 in Connecticut since the
pandemic reached the United States.
But Yasmin had a vulnerability
to the coronavirus she didn't know
about: Only when she was in the hospital, after weeks of illness, did her
family learn she had lupus, a disease
caused by an overactive immune
system. People with autoimmune
disorders are at higher risk of severe
complications from the coronavirus.
Eczema-linked in many cases to an
overactive immune system-runs in
the family, and Yasmin had it as well,
said her older sister, Madeline Peña.
But otherwise, Yasmin was "the
youngest, healthiest, most outgoing
of all of us," she said. In addition to
Madeline, Yasmin had another sister
and two brothers.
"I know a lot of kids around her age
or maybe younger are not concerned
when it comes to the virus," said
Madeline Peña, 21, who is a student
at Naugatuck Valley Community College. Yasmin planned to follow her
sister there, and then continue to a
"But you have to be concerned. It's
a virus that doesn't ask what age you
are-it infects you no matter what you
are," Peña said.
'Missing Out on That Hug'
Yasmin's death is a sorrowful addition to an already disrupted school
year for students at her school, which
has been closed to in-person classes
since mid-March. After learning
the news, the school system started
reaching out to faculty and students
on Monday. Counselors have also followed up with additional phone calls
to students, said Nicholas Albini, the
principal of Waterbury Arts Magnet.
"Unfortunately, everything becomes a little bit more impersonalized
than it was when we were in direct
contact," Albini said. "Everybody's
alone. That's just an unfortunate
product of this disease. We're missing out on that hug we'd like to give,
but this is what we have."
Edwin Cortes, a high school se-
nior at the magnet school who called
Yasmin his "sister," said that he
learned of her death from a school
"Yasmin had a care for people like
no other, she always had a smile like
no other," Cortes said. "She would
give me a smile every day."
"Yasmin wasn't someone who deserved to go out the way she did,"
Cortes said. "I think there was a fate
better for her. This was not her fate."
Yasmin first started experiencing
But you have to be
concerned. It's a
virus that doesn't
ask what age you
are-it infects you
no matter what
how funny she was in the show. And
I'm grateful that was my last interaction with her," she said.
After the show, Yasmin grew more
ill, with a cough and fever. Her family
decided she should stay at home to recuperate. In mid-March, however, her
mother saw her sitting at the kitchen
table, holding her head in her hands.
Yasmin told her mother she couldn't
breathe, her sister said.
They took her to the hospital and
she was admitted that day. Around
the same time, Connecticut schools
were shutting down school buildings.
Yasmin's time in the hospital was a
rollercoaster, Peña said. At times, she
said, her younger sister was responsive to her family during video chats.
At other times, her blood pressure
dipped and doctors explained that her
condition was grave.
On April 12-Easter Sunday-Peña
said the family was told Yasmin was
off the ventilator.
"We were so happy, on Easter, the
day of Jesus' resurrection. It was like a
sign from God," she said.
But a few hours later, during dialysis, Yasmin died.
"If there's one thing I would want
everyone who reads this to know, it
would be don't leave anything for tomorrow, you know? This is a virus that
is trying to separate everyone. This is
a virus that is trying to destroy families," Peña said.
The district is hoping to remember
Yasmin at what would have been her
high school graduation, though it
has still not decided how it will hold
the ceremony. Schools are currently
closed until May 20th. In a normal
year, graduation would be in June.
Waterbury Arts Magnet has 110 seniors expected to graduate this year.
"We have our sights on recognizing
Yasmin at graduation," Albini said.
"We just don't know the venue yet,
whether it will be totally digital or totally remote, but certainly she will be
Yasmin Peña, a bubbly senior
focused on fashion design at
Waterbury Arts Magnet School,
is among the youngest victims
of the coronavirus outbreak in
PRINT AD (2/5 3 COL)
sister of Yasmin Peña
chest pains in late January, her sister
said, but after a checkup, she was told
it was linked to anxiety.
"She still wanted to go to school.
She didn't want to drop everything
just because of some chest pains,"
And she also wanted to push
through and participate in the senior
theatrical showcase in late February,
"The Complete Works of William
Shakespeare (Abridged)," where she
was an ensemble member.
Marianna Vagnini Dadamo, a
teacher who had taught Yasmin in
chamber choir during her freshman
and sophomore years, marveled at
how the shy student had blossomed
over the years.
"She was the quietest, mousiest,
barely could open her mouth [student]," Vagnini Dadamo said, "but
so sensitive to what we were after and
what we were trying to achieve as a
And truly kind, Vagnini Dadamo
said: "She would ask me how I was.
And that's not an unusual question,
but it's an unusual question when a
student asks a teacher, and you really
get a sense that they really want to
know. She had that kind of kindness."
Vagnini Dadamo said that Yasmin
is not the first student she has lost.
Because of that, she said, she always
tries to leave students with a positive
message, which is what she did with
"I told her how fantastic she was,
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EDUCATION WEEK | May 13, 2020 | www.edweek.org | 5
Education Week - May 13, 2020
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 13, 2020
Education Week - May 13, 2020
Collapse: Coronavirus Will Make Inequalities in Public Schools Even Worse
Remembering 18-Year-Old Who Died From Coronavirus
‘Summer Melt’ Could Be a Flood As Seniors Shift College Plans
Schools Struggle to Meet Students’ Mounting Mental-Health Needs
7 Big Issues for Unions and Districts in Remote Teaching Agreements
District Hard-Hit by COVID-19 Begins ‘Tough Work’ of Getting On
Right-to-Education Ruling Jolts Advocacy World
Teachers Without Internet Work In Parking Lots, Empty School Building During COVID-19
What We Can Still Learn From Hurricane Katrina
A Blueprint for Reopening Schools This Fall
The Sleeping Giant: Emotional Trauma
Letters to the Editor
EdWeek Top School Jobs
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Collapse: Coronavirus Will Make Inequalities in Public Schools Even Worse
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 2
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Briefly Stated
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 4
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Remembering 18-Year-Old Who Died From Coronavirus
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - ‘Summer Melt’ Could Be a Flood As Seniors Shift College Plans
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 7
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Schools Struggle to Meet Students’ Mounting Mental-Health Needs
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 9
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 10
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 7 Big Issues for Unions and Districts in Remote Teaching Agreements
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 12
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 13
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - District Hard-Hit by COVID-19 Begins ‘Tough Work’ of Getting On
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 15
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Right-to-Education Ruling Jolts Advocacy World
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Teachers Without Internet Work In Parking Lots, Empty School Building During COVID-19
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - What We Can Still Learn From Hurricane Katrina
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - The Sleeping Giant: Emotional Trauma
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - Letters to the Editor
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 21
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 22
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - EdWeek Top School Jobs
Education Week - May 13, 2020 - 24