Parents, educators on 1st day back: ‘No tears, just excitement’

Valley View Elementary School Principal Ardrella Hamilton welcomes back students as districts begin to allow cohorts of students back on campus. February 22, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Monday marked the first day of in-person instruction for hundreds of Santa Clarita Valley elementary students after nearly a year of remote learning amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

From seeing their teachers and friends to packing up their backpacks for the big day, the excitement was overwhelming for many students, according to parents and their children. 

“I love kindergarten,” said Owen James Sanderson, who is in transitional kindergarten at Valley View Community School. 

His parents, Brittni and Ryan, picked him up from school before noon as part of the Sulphur Springs Union School District’s hybrid in-person system, in which students in TK-second grade can return for in-person learning for a little more than two hours, four days out of the week. Other SCV elementary school districts have implemented a similar practice. 

“He did really good with distance learning, and we just felt that at this time, with all the precautions that the school is taking, in-person was the right decision,” said Ryan. 

Parents drop off students at Valley View Elementary Monday as COVID-19 restrictions are eased to allow cohorts of students back on campus. February 22, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

For Fani Rueda, a mother of four, the return to in-person learning on Monday was a little nerve-wracking, but essential for the well-being of her first-grade daughter at Canyon Springs Community School, she said. 

“It’s concerning because they’re just kids and you don’t know what they’ll do, but at the same time, she (daughter) wanted to come. She wanted to see her teacher, and we feel very safe with her teacher; she’s very patient,” said Rueda. 

Many parents said they sat together as a family to discuss whether to remain at home or send their children back to school, ultimately leaving the decision to the student. 

“My husband and I had decided to keep her at home. We had explained to her that some of her classmates would be coming back to school and she asked us why, so we had a really robust discussion with her and actually let her make the decision,” said Aiza Bautista, a Canyon Country nurse, who was picking up her first-grade daughter at Valley View. “I think she was very well-prepared. She checked her bag to make sure she had her sanitizers and extra masks.” 

It was equally exciting for teachers and staff, who have been preparing for a safe return for months, according to Catherine Kawaguchi, Sulphur Springs superintendent. 

“It’s not the first day of school, but it feels like the first day. We spent many months preparing, we have all the protocols in place and we’re making sure we share with the parents,” she said. “Today, when the kids were dropped off, we didn’t see too many tears from the kids, but we did see some parents cry. It was an exciting moment.” 

Part of what made the return a smooth operation across school sites was the slow rollout, according to Newhall School District Superintendent Jeff Pelzel. 

“We saw roughly around 600-700 students (across the district) today. The slow rollout is really really reassuring because we get to work out any kinks, although I haven’t heard any,” said Pelzel, who spent the day at the district’s sites and hearing from parents and staff. “The biggest noticeable difference was that the kids were ready to go. No tears, just excitement. For many kids, this is their first time going to campus but they were ready. Parents said they were up early and showering and putting their shoes on.” 

Morning tasks, like putting shoes on, were exciting to do once again, multiple school district officials shared after reconnecting with parents on campus, including Castaic Union School District

“It was wonderful to see the students with their new school shoes and backpacks as they arrived this morning,” said Castaic Superintendent Steve Doyle. “You could see the smiles behind their masks and hear the excitement in their voices.”  

Canyon Springs Elementary welcomes back students as districts begin to allow cohorts of students back on campus. February 22, 2021. Bobby Block / The Signal.

District officials, including those with Saugus Union School District, cautioned on the importance of continuing to follow COVID-19 health measures. 

“We want to remind people that following safety protocols remains critical. We’ve only partially opened with all the protocols in place and we want people to be mindful that if protocols aren’t followed, (schools) can close again,” said Saugus Superintendent Colleen Hawkins. 

School districts have been allowed to reopen for grades TK-second, and there’s a schedule for all grades through sixth to return by next week. 

The reopenings come after Los Angeles County reached California’s COVID-19 case threshold last week of 25 per 100,000 residents for five straight days. Grades seven through 12 are not currently scheduled to be permitted to reopen until the county’s adjusted case rate falls below seven per 100,000 residents, according to Public Health officials. 

Meanwhile, the state is expected to start vaccinating educators by March 1, with at least 75,000 COVID-19 doses per week, or 10% of all first-round doses, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Monday.

“We must value our educators and our educators are not just our teachers. Our educators are all the classified staff. Educators include the people that make schools work, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, our custodial staff,” he said of those who are expected to receive the vaccine next.

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