One Friday, right outside the school entrance, the fifth graders had just come back from recess and lined up, six feet apart. Ready to pick them up for class, I headed toward the former parking lot, which has now been transformed into an outdoor school activity space. That’s when I heard it: the bursting sound of laughter. Kids exclaimed, “Ms.Kai! Ms.Kai! We were in recess and look, it started raining!” rain water dripping from their masks. There were no complaints, just clear and pure laughter. I placed my hand over my heart, grateful for this moment and hopeful it would last.
I am a second-year Lasallian Volunteer serving at The San Miguel School of Providence in Rhode Island, and living in the Brother Charles Henry Community. The quarantine regulations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic started in Rhode Island and our school in March 2020, leading to our school becoming virtual. Needless to say, the days of virtual teaching were hard. I always thought to myself, “If only these kids were right in front of me.” I never realized until now how much harder it would actually be when they were right in front of me, but apart. My role as an LV last year consisted of working with students grades five to eight academically, but also during breakfast, lunch and dismissal. I loved laughing with all of them, working with all of them and learning from all of them. Yet, just like everything else in the reality of the pandemic, everything changed.
After an entire summer witnessing staff and administrators working tirelessly organizing, fundraising and being challenged with ever-changing plans, San Miguel re-opened at the end of August 2020. This year, my role as an LV changed.
I am blessed to be placed in the fifth grade classroom this new school year to work with the new students and their homeroom teacher, Janet Maloney. Mrs. Maloney and her many talents are gifts to all of us. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to work and learn from her, as a teacher and a kind soul. I am also grateful to share this journey of being in a new school with the fifth graders, but I lament the loss of being able to connect and reconnect with students in other classes.
That rainy Friday was an especially rough one. I was reminded again and again that I hadn’t even seen any of the sixth, seventh and eighth graders in passing all morning. Then, there I was, standing right outside the school entrance with the fifth graders, listening to their laughter, when I realized something. They were laughing beyond their masks about this shared experience with their San Miguel brothers. Even though they were rained on because of the outdoor safety protocols, they were experiencing so much joy. I smiled, with my hand over my heart, reminding myself that this is real and to remember the moment forever.
Now, when I see a student from afar, waving his arm in the air to say hello, I remember the time last year before the pandemic when we laughed because of a corny joke. Not everything has changed, those memories with these students and these moments of joy, they are all still here.
Being a Lasallian Volunteer taught me that days go by and things change quickly, but what lasts are those sounds of laughter. Those moments when we laughed because a Brother was eating his fourth cookie of the night, we laughed because another coworker had to battle with the copy machine, we laughed because a student knew I was calling him over just so that he would tie his shoes, “Hahaha, I knew it, Ms. Kai!” I will remember those moments, as they are holding me up right now being an LV during the pandemic. They help me stay strong as I continue to remember that laughter in the past and continue to collect those sounds of laughter in the future with our wonderful new fifth graders. When my LV journey serving at The San Miguel School of Providence comes to an end, I will carry all of these moments with me, and as my hand is placed over my heart, these sounds of laughter will last.
Kaiyun Chen is a second-year volunteer serving at The San Miguel School of Providence in Rhode Island. She is a 2019 graduate of Manhattan College with a major in English secondary education.