Utica Refugee Family of 11 Looks Forward to Normal Year of School

After enduring a difficult year of pandemic restrictions, six Karen students from a family of eleven hope for a better year academically, socially and emotionally.

Since October 2020, the Utica Observer-Dispatch has documented the experiences of this large family, originally from Myanmar, as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. The family consists of grandparents Jay Baw, 88, and Naw Ler, 62; parents Tay Heh, 55, and Khee Paw, 46; and children Kler Ker, 23, Kler Moo K’tray Paw, 21, Klaw Moo Paw, 18, Say Kler Paw, 17, Say Kler Lweh, 14, Saw Kler Kaw Htoo, 10, and Eh Moo Taw Heh, 8.

Four of the seven siblings are set to graduate from school next year: Kler Moo K’tray Paw from SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Marcy, Klaw Moo Paw from Herkimer County Community College, Say Kler Paw from Thomas R. Proctor High School in Utica, and Saw Kler Kaw Htoo from sixth grade to middle school.

Now that many COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted, particularly in schools, the family’s six youngest shared their hopes for next year.

The two youngest siblings said they were excited to hopefully not need to wear masks or adhere to social distancing next year.

“I want to be close to my friends so I can talk to them much better,” says Saw Kler, 10. And he wants to be able to play with them, games like rock, paper and scissors, he adds.

Eh Moo, 8, said that she looks forward to bringing “two drawing books to school for doodling; chatting with her group of three best friends at lunchtime while eating chicken pizza and a side salad; listening to music on her computer during recess; and doing all her studying in school.”  

Meanwhile, Kler and Say Kler hope that next year will provide more freedom, as well as relief from the stress caused by the pandemic.

Kler said that her grades suffered last year. She usually works hard to keep her grades high, she says. “But during the pandemic,” Kler confesses, “I just wanted to pass.” 

Say Kler also felt stressed by the pandemic. “I feel like ever since the pandemic started, I’ve gotten unmotivated,” she says. “I feel more anxious now, worrying about schoolwork and worrying about the pandemic.”

Kler, Klaw, and Say Kler hope that being less stressed and returning to in-person learning will help them do better academically. 

“This year my grades dropped,” says Klaw. “I’m hoping by this year going to classes, my grades will go up.”

Say Kler, a self-described visual learner, says that it was difficult for her to process and retain information when she took remote classes. However, although her grade went back to full-time in-person learning in April, remote learning allowed Say Kler to have more flexibility in studying for her three AP exams and all her finals.

In addition to their academic goals, the three sisters hope that they will be able to socialize more this year. Say Kler noted that face masks made it more difficult to connect with her peers and teachers, while Kler and Klaw have both struggled to make friends during their first year at new schools.

“I’m not really experiencing the college life that I want, so I’m hoping to experience that when we go back,” says Kler, who just finished her first semester at SUNY Polytechnic Institute after transferring from Herkimer College.

Klaw didn’t get to interact with other students during her first year in college. “So I didn’t have any new friends,” she says. 

Kler and Klaw are applying for summer internships, while Kler is also taking a summer anthropology course on culture and health. Meanwhile, Say Kler hopes that getting outside more this summer will help improve her mood.

Originally published by the Utica Observer-Dispatch, 6/15/21

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