SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 ) – More children are coming down with COVID-19. That’s according to state health officials who say there are more than 500 coronavirus cases for students under the age of 18.

This comes as teachers put their final touches on their classrooms, preparing for students to arrive at the Salt Lake City School District’s first day of school.

To get her coworkers in the right headspace, Mary W. Jackson Elementary 4th grade teacher Jennifer Hair led a new group exercise for teachers.

The icebreaker is called ‘Mingle, Mingle, Mingle.’ The goal is to pair students up with partners using fist bumps, high fivers, secret handshakes, and much more.

Mary W. Jackson Elementary 4th grade teacher Jennifer Hair

Hair yells out to the group, “Fist [bump] partner, this is the most important person to you in the whole world to you. This is your fist bump, high five partner,” she tells the group.

Hair goes on to say, “Why would you want to use what we just did in the classroom?” A person replies, “It was fun!” Hair says, “Ok when you attach learning to fun, they learn it, they retain it.”

While talking to ABC4’s Jason Nguyen about the SLC Classroom Chronicles Hair says, “If you need to pair them up quickly, you can say knuckles partner, and my kids can get up and find their knuckles partner, and I can say ok this is what I want you to share. And now you have 19 ways to pair kids up that aren’t based on academics at all, and they can hear each other’s thoughts so quick.”

Hair and her colleagues believe fun has to be a part of learning during the 2021-2022 school year.

“Some kids have to have a lot of grit just to live in the situations that they have, and they shouldn’t have to keep showing grit at school,” she says. “It should be a place where they can come, and they can be who they are.”

Everyone who works for the district knows this will be another uncertain year dealing with COVID-19

Principal Tracy Sjostrom says, “This community was hit hard with COVID, and people died, people got very sick, and it’s been very upsetting. There is a lot of grief that we all experienced.”

On Monday, The Utah Department of Health stated there were 534 students under the age of 18 who contracted the virus.

State officials say 203 cases are in children between the ages 5-10. Another 132 cases are in the 11-13-year-old demo. While teenagers between the ages of 14-18 have 199 cases.

The news comes just 10 days after Salt Lake County officials voted down their health department executive director‘s mask mandate for students k-6.

At the time County Councilmember Aimee Winder Newton told a crowd, “I’m not going to put the burden of the community healthcare system on the backs of little children who have very low COVID risk. I morally cannot do it.”

To combat the issue, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall issued a mask mandate for those K-12. That appears to be up in the air.

Hooper’s Representative Mike Schultz says, “Clearly, the legislature spelled out a pathway forward for this to happen. She did not like the outcome of that process, so she decided to take matters into her own hands which is totally not what the intent was.”

Across town, at Liberty Elementary teacher Becky Page ran through her last-minute items for class. He goal is to provide as much social distancing she can in her classroom.

” It will be a very emotional time the very first day of school to see all those kids lined up and they are going to be excited to be back, and all the teachers are very excited to be back,” says Page.

With the Salt Lake City Mayor’s mask mandate in question, she’s strongly encouraging kids to wear one because it appears those under 12 are becoming the most vulnerable to the virus.

“We might have masks on, but we are going back to a normal school year of learning, doing great activities, coming together as a community, and staying safe. We are going to stay as safe as possible,” says Page.

Liberty Elementary teacher Becky Page

She says she knows parents are depending on it.

“I feel like we have a very good partnership with parents, and they know that we are here to try and keep their students as safe as possible, their kids, and I feel like they have the trust in us that we will keep them safe,” says Page. “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, and so that first month it’s just so much fun for them to get to know me, and I get to know them, and we build that relationship, and then all of a sudden learning just happens.”