MESA, AZ — Holly Evans is used to making adjustments. She uses the experience of 32 years in the classroom to take on a job that would be a challenge for any educator.
"I teach kindergarten through 8th," she said, covering classes for every grade offered at her school.
As an educator at Eagleridge Enrichment program in the Mesa Public Schools district, Evans serves children who are homeschooled for part of the week, attending in-person classes on other days.
In a year when every educator had to adjust to pandemic protocols, Evans called it one of the toughest challenges she's ever faced.
"This year has been really hard. I won’t lie. It has thrown me for a loop more than I would’ve anticipated," she said.
No one would have blamed her for taking a break. Just four days before the first day of school, a fire broke out in the backyard of Evans' home. It quickly spread to the rest of the home. Evans lost nearly all of her belongings. The fire broke out a day after her birthday, and a day before her son was getting married.
Evans said she spent the days leading up to the school year simply crying, processing her emotions, but she still insisted on being there when students arrived for class.
"School is academics and it’s learning, but it’s also that emotional connection. And I wanted to start building about foundation from day one," she said. " I didn’t ever tell the students when it happened to me, because they didn’t need any more negative. They needed positive."
As an educator, Evans said she was inspired to teach by her own teachers in high school. She wanted to give back, and she needed to be in school. It was a welcome respite from her own personal struggles.
"I need the students, I hope, as much as they needed their teacher. I need a positive too," she said.
For her colleagues, Evans resilience was inspiring, even as they navigated the changes of the school year.
"She has done it with grace. She has done it with a willing attitude. A smile on her face every step of the way," said Eagleridge principal Amanda Ball. "It’s unbelievable to me how strong she has been through all of the curveballs that she’s been thrown this year."
As the school year comes to a close, Evans, like every educator, is hopeful for a return to normalcy when the new school year begins in the fall. She's also hopeful many of the emotions and divisiveness of this year, will fade away.
"I hope everyone's a little kinder," she said. "Honestly to me that’s more important than the masks, or in person or remote. I just wish we’d be a little nicer to each other."
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