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Signs of caring, recognition: West High teachers deliver yard signs to graduating seniors

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West High School teacher Kathy Barnard empathizes with Devvon Hines about the dismal ending to the senior class’ school year while delivering a graduation yard sign to Hines’ daughter in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 23, 2020. Barnard also has a graduating senior who attends the Salt Lake Center for Science Education.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — West High School teacher Kathy Barnard reached out to students in an unconventional way Thursday, planting personalized yard signs in front of the homes of graduating seniors.

“There was one girl who cried. There were a few whose families just celebrated them. A lot of them were sleeping in but it was really nice to see them and let them know they’re not forgotten and that they are recognized and celebrated in this time when we’re all alone and isolated in our houses, that they aren’t forgotten,” said Barnard.

The soft closure of Utah schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic was announced on March 13 and has been extended until the end of the academic year. The halt to in-school learning and pivot to distance education has posed challenges to students, educators and families alike.

But for graduating seniors who had anticipated the traditional celebrations of their final term of school, the closures have been especially difficult, Barnard said.

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Celeste Carmona consoles her daughter, Lismer, while thanking West High School teacher Kathy Barnard for a yard sign celebrating Lismer’s graduation in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 23, 2020. Lismer said she is disappointed in not having a “normal” ending to her four years of high school.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

“The hardest thing for seniors was, there was no advance warning. It happened on a weekend and we just didn’t come back. I have a senior son myself, and it’s been hard on them, to not have that closure (lifted) yet. Hopefully we can do something more to make graduation really special for them,” Barnard said.

Barnard was one of dozens of West High School teachers who traveled through the school’s boundaries posting signs in graduating seniors’ yards to connect to them on a personal level.

“For seniors, this should be their victory lap right now,” — West High School teacher Kathy Barnard

“For seniors, this should be their victory lap right now,” she said.

Barnard, who teaches German, world history and West’s Freshman Success Program, has worked at West High for four years. Prior to that she was a clerk in the counseling office at Northwest Middle School.

She asked to distribute signs in the Rose Park area because she’s known several West High seniors for six years. “I miss them. They’re my kids,” she said.

Most of her colleagues feel the same way, she said. When the principal emailed teachers asking them to distribute the yard signs, teachers responded immediately saying “Yes, please, I want to volunteer to take signs to seniors.”

The signs include the students’ names, which made the gesture more meaningful, Barnard said. “I loved that it was an individual recognition for each of the graduates,” she said. The hope is, when neighbors see the signs that they will celebrate the graduating seniors, too.

West High School’s graduation was originally scheduled in early June and it has not yet been determined if the rites will be postponed or an alternative celebration will be conducted.

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West High School teacher Kathy Barnard places a graduation sign in the yard of a senior who attends the Salt Lake City high school on Thursday, April 23, 2020. Barnard did not want the seniors to think they had been forgotten amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

West, the oldest public high school in Utah and one of the state’s most diverse, celebrates many traditions passed along for generations during its annual commencement exercises.

“West’s graduations are so culturally rich as well. There’s something really amazing about our students, what a lot of them have gone through to get to graduation,” she said.

District administrators are working with student leaders to determine the next steps for students graduating from Salt Lake high schools.

“We love and miss our students. We’re really proud of how hard that they’ve worked to get to where they are,” Barnard said.

“Hopefully everyone can recognize them, their whole neighborhood.”