For students and educators, 2020 was a year of change, then more change.

They moved to a digital learning platform in March 2020 as schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When students returned to the classroom, it was in a hybrid model of in-person and digital formats for many districts including Sahuarita Unified School District. SUSD also introduced its fully online school, the Sahuarita Digital Pathways Academy.

Though most sports and clubs were canceled and students spent less one-on-one time with each other, young people are staying positive.

Here’s what the school year was like for local students from elementary to high school, along with some of their favorite memories.

Elementary school

“I think it is so fun to see my friends at school and do my project with my teacher and also that my mommy teaches me at home. I am OK with that because I can sleep in for a long time.”

Nathan Sánchez, 5, Wrightson Ridge, kindergarten

“I’ve learned a lot. I've learned a lot about math, like five plus five equals 10. And I've learned a lot about subtraction. Subtraction is like when you take something away, like there's five and if you take one away, there's four. And I've learned about predators and lizards are friends with dinosaurs. My mom's been good by teaching me. My little brother's been good.”

Aeneas Pedregó, 6, homeschool, kindergarten

“School has been fun and different. I like Seesaw school because my cat and mom are with me, and I like in-person school because I get to see my friends and teacher. But I don’t like the masks. My favorite memories are Zoom parties, like our Halloween and Christmas parties.”

Athena Stolfi, 6, Sahuarita Primary School, first grade

“I am feeling really good right now and the Google Meet wasn't that bad. I really liked it. I would rather go to school every day though. I really liked our holiday party this year. It was really fun.”

Justice Castorena, 6, Sahuarita Primary School, first grade

"School was amazing. (I liked) seeing my friends and everyone but nobody can see our faces or our smiles"

Aryah Robles, 6, Wrightson Ridge, first grade

“I love when I get to see my teacher and my friends because I love them."

Abby Stowell, 6, Sahuarita Primary School, first grade

“I like being at school because I get to learn new things from my teacher, Mrs. McGraw. We do fun things at school. I also like seeing my friends."

Joe DeFazio, 7, Wrightson Ridge, first grade

Sean “loved” his school experience. His favorite part was “getting to go to real school two days a week,” and he loves doing math and spending time with friends.

Sean Williams, 7, Anza Trail, first grade

“My favorite thing about this year has been learning math with Mrs. Herndon.”

CJ Alvarez, 7, Sopori Elementary, second grade

" I loved to see my friends and teacher but I didn't like friends not being able to see my face."

Bryanna Robles, 7, Wrightson Ridge, second grade

“You can’t take off your mask a lot and if you do then you have to step away so you don’t get too close. This school year makes me sad because you don’t get to do hugs or high fives or secret handshakes. My favorite memory is when we do lots of crafts.”

Natalie Kretschmer, 7, Anza Trail, second grade

“It is hard wearing a mask all day and it's hard not being able to play with my friends that aren't in my class.”

Axel Alcantar, 8, Sahuarita Intermediate School, third grade

“I didn't like the online classes, and going to school just two days a week in the hybrid learning model wasn't enough. I miss the normal school a lot. My favorite memory was making new friends at school.”

Alexa Ochoa Aleman, 8, Wrightson Ridge, third grade

“My favorite memory is being able to go to school and see my friends. I don’t like doing school online, I feel like I don’t learn as good as I do when I’m in person at school.”

Jacob Mejia, 9, Anza Trail, fourth grade

“This year in fifth grade was different than the beginning of fourth grade because we had to do most of our schoolwork online. Some days we went into school. I had a lot of doctors appointments and I was able to do my school work later in the day and also I could do Zoom meetings while in the car on the way to my appointments and hospital visits.”

Leía Chiariello, 10, Anza Trail, fifth grade

“I miss hugging my friends and teachers. I used to hug them so much before all this happened. This school year is hard. All the new rules aren't fun. I can't concentrate when I do my online. I hope to go to school like normal soon. My favorite part is Thursday and Fridays when I can go to my school and see my friends. I like being in class.”

Brookelyn San Julian, 10, Anza Trail, fifth grade

“I experienced a new way that I can learn instead of physically going to school. I’ve learned a lot of new ways to solve problems. My favorite memory is that I have a lot of fun learning and playing games with my classmates over Google Classroom.”

Aubrey Black, 11, Sahuarita Digital Pathways Academy, fifth grade

“I think it has been weird not being able to play with our friends and having to wear a mask.”

Gino Alcantar, 11, Sahuarita Intermediate School, fifth grade


Middle school

“This school year has been really hard for me. I get really distracted and can't focus at home doing online school but when I go to school it's hard to breathe all day in a mask for hours. It's my first year of middle school so masks and social distancing make it hard to make friends. It's lonely. My favorite part of this school year was finally buying school supplies so that we could return to school for two days a week. I love being able to see my teachers in person and I can focus much better there."

Nevaeh San Julian, 12, Anza Trail, sixth grade

“I found this school year easier to get assignments done and I was able to rewatch instructional videos. I could also email teachers when I didn’t understand something instead of waiting until the next school day to talk to them. Two days a week in school I was still able to see my friends but with social distancing and masks on. I am in a high school math class and I was glad I could still do this class and have a good grade despite being in hybrid.”

Molly Chiariello, 12, Anza Trail, seventh grade

High school

“This year has been challenging and difficult, but I’ve also learned how to adapt to change.”

Neveah Rodriguez, 14, Walden Grove High School, freshman

“School has been unpredictable and short.”

Mauro Tovar, 15, Walden Grove High School, freshman

“This year has been weird for me. I’m sure all of us have had a weird year but we all need to keep pushing on.”

Joshua Itule, 16, Walden Grove High School, sophomore

“It’s been different. It was a little bit of a struggle too.”

Garrett Hoinacki, 16, Walden Grove High School, sophomore

“I was able to do the JTED program this school year even with the COVID pandemic. I’m glad this program, the cyber security class, through Pima college and Walden still continues. I am able to earn college credits while in 11th grade. Computer Science is the field I would like to go into so doing online schooling is not complicated for me.”

Vinny Spagnola, 16, Walden Grove High School, junior

“It’s been a struggle not being at school but the worst part was losing a staff member and friend at our school. He would talk to me every day in the halls and called me mija, and Walden and the world is darker without him. I wish that people would understand that being safe and staying home for a while will help us get back to normal faster and that it is important to stay away from people now so we can spend more time together in the future. My favorite 2020 memory was getting to celebrate my birthday on Zoom with my family and friends for a fairy tale murder mystery party, and knowing that my friends and family would be safe.”

Pita Nastase, 17, Walden Grove High School, junior

“My favorite memory for the year is when I went to Walden Grove and I was able to take tons of cool photos with my friends. I swapped to online school for mental health reasons. Online school has definitely been a lot easier, but you have to self-motivate so much more.”

Camille Johnson, 17, Arizona Virtual Academy, junior

“It has been a major adjustment, but the teachers and staff at WGHS have put in a lot of extra work to help the students succeed. Although we couldn’t have dances or large gatherings the school allowed us to continue our homecoming traditions and play (socially distanced) games.”

Meredith Scott, 16, Walden Grove High School, junior

“This school year has been very challenging and it has gone by way too quick.”

Olivia Back, 16, Sahuarita High School, junior

“This year has not been ideal, especially since it is my last year of high school. It definitely has been different than any other year. I have learned that I am capable of doing so much more than I thought I ever could do. That I should reach for the sky but that the sky is never in a limitation. My drive to strive has gotten greater during this school year because I had the opportunity to become the best version I have ever been.”

Alejandra Tirado-Elias, 16, Sahuarita High School, senior

“School has been pretty crazy. We started online then went to hybrid and are now back strictly online. It really sucks for us seniors because we’re losing everything that makes senior year so great. We’ve lost pep rallies, dances and even sport seasons. I’m sure I'm not the first to say that but it just proves how much it sucks. School itself has been a shift going completely online and trying to learn that way is really different. But this year will definitely go down in history.”

Chase Kinsman, 18, Sahuarita High School, senior

“Everyone’s adversity has definitely been tested. Going to school week to week not knowing what to expect isn’t a good feeling but at the end of the day right now it’s our jobs and we’ve been giving it our all regardless if it’s in-person or through a Zoom call.”

Frank Louden Montoya, 18, Walden Grove High School, senior

Walden Grove High School student Ethan Itule contributed to this story