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As homeschool year ends, Mount Vernon family sees possibilities with vaccinations

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Note: This story is part of the fifth and final installment of Learning Curve, a year-long series of stories following a group of families whose children are attending public schools across New York state during the pandemic. Start from the beginning here.

MOUNT VERNON - In the final throes of the school year, a homeschooled Bryan Santiago, 17, sits on the steps of an elementary school near his house wearing colorful plastic bracelets he’s accumulated since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. 

What started as one or two last year has multiplied into six or seven bands that stretch up his arm. Each of the cuffs, Santiago said, have a different meaning. 

Among them is the blue one that represents mental health. Another represents a trip his family took to Dave and Buster’s before the pandemic. 

There's a maroon and gold one he’s started wearing a few weeks ago for school spirit, even though he’s homeschooling due to the pandemic. And then there are the newest ones, which he got the day he received his first coronavirus vaccination.

To Bryan, a junior, getting an appointment was a sign that things could be returning back to normal. His parents, Norma and Jose, have both been vaccinated. His sister, Julia, 11, is too young for now. 

“Everyone’s been waiting for a vaccine. Like me especially. I want this to all be over,” he said on a Thursday afternoon. “I don’t want to keep living this, whatever this is, for any much longer.” 

Learning Curve: Santiago family looks forward after COVID school year
Tania Savayan, Rockland/Westchester Journal News

For well over a year, Bryan and Julia have been schooling from the confines of their home because of the coronavirus pandemic. In just a few weeks, the Santiago children will be finishing their second school year at home. 

At home, the two have done some shapeshifting, transforming a dining room table into a school desk and using a mirror hanging in the family room as a dry-erase board for math problems. 

And now, following a year of hallowed libraries and crowd avoidance, the two are taking inventory on how virtual learning has shaped them and envisioning how they will, in turn, shape their future as coronavirus — hopefully — drifts into a memory. 

Julia has become more artistic, drawing Minecraft worlds on canvases that she proudly displays. Despite having headaches when homeschooling first started, she’s adapted to learning virtually, though she misses her friends. 

Deciding how to make that return to extracurriculars is a little scary, she said. Sitting beside her brother outside of school, Julia said she’s not sure if she wants to return to all of her pre-pandemic activities, in part because she doesn’t understand the social environments anymore. 

Julia Santiago, 11, has been painting more while at home during the pandemic. She shows some of her recent work at home in Mount Vernon May 27, 2021. Julia and her brother, Bryan, 17, have been remote learning since the pandemic began in March 2020.
Julia Santiago, 11, has been painting more while at home during the pandemic. She shows some of her recent work at home in Mount Vernon May 27, 2021. Julia and her brother, Bryan, 17, have been remote learning since the pandemic began in March 2020. Tania Savayan/The Journal News

Although he’s had some difficulties in school, Bryan has poured himself into virtual civic engagement. A passion of his, Bryan helped out on the presidential election and recently applied for an internship teaching civics on the TikTok social media platform. He didn’t get it, but he’s hoping for something similar this summer. 

Both of the children want to return to the classroom. Norma and Jose are also ready for their kids to return to in-person learning, though there is still some concern since Julia can't be vaccinated yet.

“There are some families that do not get vaccinated so there are kids who are also exposed to their families who are not vaccinated,” Jose said. “So, it’s hard to let your son or daughter go to a school, (a) confined space, with (the) kids exposed to unvaccinated people.”  

When the pandemic is over, the family wants to travel more, take more road trips and visit the Philippines. Maybe even a visit to Legoland

More: New York looks to have schools fully in person in September. Here's the latest

Meanwhile, Bryan has started going back to walking or biking to either the Pelham or Mount Vernon library to have some time for himself. There, he peruses the halls and checks out books.

After a hiatus of more than a year, it's a move toward the future, he said. In resuming life, he said, he’ll be keeping up with the mantras that held him over before the coronavirus:

Don't be afraid to make connections.

Get out of your comfort zone.

Try new things.

More in this series

The Sepulveda family pushes through a long school year — and then COVID

After a school year like no other, Binghamton family looks to future with hope

Utica family of 11 hoping for graduations everyone can attend next year

School year's end brings more upheaval for Poughkeepsie mom, daughter: Eviction

As virtual school year ends, Santiago family decides what stays and goes

The Jansen family shares lessons from 'a long year' of remote learning

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