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Sugar House Journal

An ever-shifting school year ends for one student

Jun 21, 2021 15h00 ● By Katy Whittingham

Xavier M., a fifth-grade student at Whittier Elementary, returns to in-person learning at the end of February. (Photo courtesy of Temma, Xavier’s mother)

By Katy Whittingham | [email protected] 

Xavier M., a fifth grader at Whittier Elementary, which falls within the Salt Lake City School District, first expressed his ideal scenario for going back to school in early August 2020. He had hoped to spend a combination of time at home and in person with “maybe three days of home school and two days in school,” he said. This way he believed he could spend time with his friends but remain safe during the pandemic. Keeping up with Xavier throughout the past 10 months, his feelings and priorities have continued to change and adapt as learning options and state and district regulations have too. 

While many districts offered multiple learning options from the start of this school year, Salt Lake District offered only a single online option for elementary students until February. Although it wasn’t what he had originally hoped for, Xavier adapted well and appreciated the flexibility that online learning provided. Before knowing whether he could return this year, he expressed that he would be “fine either way” if factors like high COVID case counts affected the return. His class ended up with the option to return in February, and Xavier returned the last week of the month. While initially only one of his close friends returned, and he had wait a couple more weeks for others, he said, “I absolutely loved going back. It was so great to be back with my friends and teacher.” 

Another curveball occurred following spring break when Xavier got sick and had to miss the first week back. Although he tested negative for COVID, his mother Temma was not comfortable sending him back to school with congestion and a cough. However, in a school year in which perks could be sometimes difficult to find, since some of his class was still remote, Xavier was able to participate in school from home. Temma said that another huge positive has been his teacher, Cathy Bigler, who teaches both the online learners and in-person students in his class. “She has about 16 children in person and 10 remote, and she’s been so great for these students during this year of uncertainty,” Temma said.  

Following the announcement at the end of the second week of May that masks would be lifted for the last week of school, Xavier was concerned, especially with some of his classmates being so excited about it. He was worried this could be perceived as "anti-mask." 

“I told him they were probably just excited to see everyone's faces again and not have to deal with masks,” Temma said. Despite many local districts moving forward with the lift, Xavier’s school elected to keep the mask mandate through the end of this year. 

Being the oldest in this class, Xavier will also be eligible to get vaccinated in early July when he turns 12. “I’m excited that with kids getting vaccinated it will mean more chances to play and hang out more normally,” he said. 

“It’s been a long 14 months for children, especially only children like Xavier. He’s excited for the summer and looking forward to next year, too, but assumes they will still be wearing masks. I guess only time will tell the effect of lifting mask mandates,” Temma said. 

Xavier’s mom said no one could have imagined how long these restrictions would last, and has some thoughts about the future. 

“I think the most important thing is to try to be positive and continue to do all we can to protect ourselves and others,” she said. “And hope more people get vaccinated and get their kids vaccinated, so life can continue moving in the right direction.”