About 200 St. Anthony-Our Lady of Guadalupe Spanish Immersion Program students belted out the lyrics to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in their school’s parking lot on Tuesday.

It was the Dubuque school’s first in-person, schoolwide event since March, when campuses first closed in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We just really value being together as a community, and this will be a nice way to send us off into Christmas,” Principal Carolyn Wiezorek said.

Students participated in the schoolwide singalong on their last day before winter break, keeping up an annual tradition of gathering to sing Christmas carols before taking time off from school. And during a year in which so many aspects of school look different, the opportunity to keep up traditions was a welcome one.

“To be able to bring that into the year and be able to have that stay the same … was really nice,” said music teacher Sam Anderson.

On Tuesday afternoon, students formed a circle around the parking lot, stretching out their arms to their sides to make sure they created some distance between themselves and their classmates. They all wore their face coverings, and many wore pajama pants in keeping with the day’s dress-up theme.

Anderson led students through a rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and then held a competition to see whether the students or their teachers could sing “Jingle Bells” louder. They finished by singing “Silent Night.”

Fifth-grader Mason Babler enjoyed the singalong because students generally have not been singing in music class during the pandemic.

“We haven’t been able to sing in a long time,” he said.

He and his classmates Aidan McDermott and Sadie Morales all said they really liked the “Jingle Bells” competition.

“We were coordinating different actions,” Mason said, demonstrating how he and his peers swayed and snapped their fingers. “(We also) got to sing at the top of our lungs.”

Sadie said she enjoyed the chance to gather with all of her other classmates.

“It was extra fun because everyone was doing it,” she said.

Anderson said Tuesday’s singalong was particularly welcome because his students haven’t been allowed to sing in classrooms this school year. While students have enjoyed their music classes, they still ask sometimes about getting to sing, he said.

“It’s just been disheartening … to not be able to sing, so it was just this nice, joyous moment,” Anderson said.

The timing of Tuesday’s activity also came with some significance for the students. The last time all of them gathered as a school was for a Lenten retreat in March, Wiezorek said. Not long after that, schools around the state closed their campuses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While OLG students have been back on campus this fall, they haven’t been able to gather as they usually would each morning in the gym for announcements. At weekly Masses, two grade levels attend in person, while the other students watch via livestream.

Organizers of Tuesday’s singalong thought it seemed fitting to gather the students as a community again — with precautions — during another liturgical season, this time for Advent.

“Part of our mission is to be together and praise the Lord, and it was just a nice opportunity for us to get together, to be gathered,” Wiezorek said.

She said the Christmas singalong was a good way to end 2020, given her school’s and the Holy Family Catholic Schools system’s efforts to provide instruction in the time of COVID-19.

“I think it’s really exciting that this is the way we’re going to ring out the old year and ring in the new,” Wiezorek said.

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