CLOVIS, Calif. (KFSN) -- It may be early, but when the school bus arrives, 7-year old Mason has a lot of excitement.
His mom remembers the day students with special needs were allowed to go back for in-person learning in Clovis Unified.
"He was so happy. The moment he saw his backpack and his lunchbox, any and everything like that, he was like, 'School bus? Go bus? School?'. And then he said his favorite teacher's name as one-to-one aid in and I said, 'Yeah bud we're going'. He said, 'OK' and this is at 6:30 in the morning," says his mom Julie.
When the pandemic unfolded, students were sent home to learn online.
This change was tough for many children with special needs.
Julie says she tried to make online school fun, but it was difficult.
"The moment the class came online he stared through the screen and screamed, 'No school', and that's how the first day started."
Mason started having behavioral issues, which affected himself and the whole family.
"We tried everything. It just didn't work. It didn't work. Then the behaviors got worse and then my son stopped sleeping," she says.
When Clovis Unified reopened, Julie and her husband decided the benefits outweighed the risk and sent Mason to school.
"When you have a child with severe autism, they need that individual, in person, sometimes hand over hand showing them how to do things to get them to understand and learn."
Songs and lessons are a part of the routine in Mrs. Sylvia Ogden's class, which helps students with autism.
Students sit in their individual areas and wear masks, while some get help from their aides.
"It's such a challenge with general education, now imagine kids with autism that are struggling to sit still. Now sitting in front of a computer. We do a lot of hands-on with them.
We weren't able to do any of that," she says.
While at home on Zoom, they practiced mask-wearing, which has been a positive life lesson since returning to in-person learning.
"The kids are great they're the models. We're the ones that say I need a mask break," says Ogden.
While it's been a tough road, Ogden says it's brought their community together.
"I wish you could see the before, right when it hit, and I look back now and say, 'Well, we've been through a lot and I see it now looking back and reflecting, but where they are now it is amazing'," she says.
Since returning to school half days, Julie has noticed a change in Mason.
"Every day I'm getting told he's crushing it, that we need to amend your IEP and we need to put new goals because Mason just surpassed," Julie says.
While Julie is happy to see her son back in school, she knows the realities many others are facing.
"I'm truly blessed because I had a team behind me that supported me. And I have group of people who are dedicated to my son. That's not the case for everyone. My story is a happy story at the end but it's also slightly an anomaly," she says.
It's a journey that's led to a greater appreciation of the community in and out of the classroom.
Children First: Special Education