Teachers, parents discuss first week back to school

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.

For the first time in nearly a year, parents gave tearful goodbyes to their kids on the first day of school, and teachers were standing by to welcome them back to the classroom.

On Monday, Santa Clarita Valley elementary schools opened their doors to general education for certain grades of students, the culmination of months of work and preparation by the districts and their staff.

The health status of students must be posted by their parents daily, temperatures are taken at the doors, masks must be worn at all times and social distance must be followed. Both parents and teachers of grades TK to second-grade students said even though they’re young and boisterous, children seemed to lead by example in terms of following mask guidelines and health protocols.

“They’ve had all this time to practice, and they’ve been out in the world wearing their masks … so I think that really helped,” said Matt Cavin, a kindergarten teacher for Newhall. “I mean, I have to remind them occasionally, ‘Oh, it’s slipping down, pull it up over your nose.’ But they all comply, and the parents have been great about sending their kids every day with a mask.”

A handful of educators joked Friday that sometimes the kids not only like to self-regulate the mask wearing amongst themselves, but they also set an example for some of the adults dropping their students off.

“We don’t have any issues with the masks, and actually the kids kind of police it themselves,” said Brian Malette, a TK teacher at Live Oak Elementary School. “You’ll see them kind of slip under their noses and they’re like, ‘Hey, your mask!’”

“I did not have to speak to one child to wear their masks properly,” said Beth Judge, a first-grade teacher at Meadows Elementary School. “That was a big fear that we would have to constantly talk about ‘wear your mask, wear your mask.’ I didn’t have to speak to one child.”

Parents seemed to be on the same page as the school administrators in terms of wanting this reintroduction to in-person learning going smoothly. Although the TK to second-grade students returning to campuses across the SCV heard from their teachers Monday about the proper procedures and classroom rules during COVID-19, a fact of life that was not true for them when they were last at school, parents said they had been working with their children for months in preparation of this inevitable return.

“He’s pretty tuned in to what is going on, and he’ll make comments,” said Laurel Gerencer, a Meadows Elementary School mom. “He’s really cognizant of washing his hands.”

Gerencer, like many parents who spoke with The Signal on Friday, said they respect the dangers involved with the virus, but they made the decision to have their kids return to in-person instruction because of the social-emotional health of their students.

“The excitement was off the charts,” said Judge. “When we went out to pick up the kids, the parents and the kids erupted in cheers. I felt like a queen.”

Marlee Diaz, a mother of three Sulphur Springs Community School students and a pediatric intensive care nurse, said she understood the need for safety, but also had to weigh that against her children’s social development and education, when considering whether to let them return for in-person instruction. “They’ve been waiting for this and they’ve been so excited. One of them just said, ‘I wish the school day was longer today.’”

Of the districts’ performance so far, parents shared high praise Friday, despite delays caused by a new electronic check-in system and a new health-screening process, which impacted dropoff times.

“I mean, it does take a while to get her into school, but it’s been pretty smooth,” said Alex Guiterrez, the parent of a first-grader at Northpark Elementary School.

“They’re taking temperatures at the gate of my daughter’s school when she goes,” said Lauren Parker, an Our Lady of Perpetual Help mom, whose daughter’s class also returned for the first time on Monday. “Everybody that I could see was wearing masks. There were volunteers there with the infrared thermometers; no parents were allowed beyond the gate.”

“They’re actually doing a good job, and I feel comfortable with how they’re doing it,” said Diaz. “They’ve actually been so organized and on top of everything … Honestly, I’m very proud of them (the staff) for how smooth everything is.”

All in all, the teachers and parents both said it has been interesting to watch the youngest generation return to school, because something they may have taken for granted before has become their happiest place.

“They haven’t really had, outside of their own family, any interaction with anyone, so I was kind of interested to see how they would adapt with each other,” said Malette of his transitional kindergarten students. “But it was insane: we were doing recess and they can play on the playground. But they were sitting on the play structure, and they didn’t even play, they were just talking. Talking for 10 minutes.”

“For the whole week, they did this, and they just talked, were goofy, didn’t go down the slide, didn’t go on the swing,” he added. “It was, like, one of the most insane things at 4 or 5 years old.”

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