Thousands of Santa Clarita Valley junior and high school students returned to campus Monday for in-person instruction, marking another milestone for local education officials seeking a return to more normalcy during the global pandemic.
Despite the extra safety measures and still-limited on-campus activity, a feeling of excitement seemed to permeate through the personal protective equipment, according to Placerita Junior High School Principal John Turner.
“We’re so excited because it’s just great to see the kids’ faces, it’s good to see everybody walking in,” said Turner on Monday morning, immediately after helping a handful of parents and students understand the new check-in system. “Even though you can’t see their faces, I think they have a smile underneath there.”
The students arriving at each of the William S. Hart Union High School District’s 16 campuses Monday followed similar procedures after being dropped off or reaching their school’s respective front gate.
While wearing a mask, students lined up 6 feet apart from one another to show paperwork to prove their parents had completed their daily CrisisGo health screening. As it was the first day back, Superintendent Mike Kuhlman said the school sites each prepared their own special welcome-back event for the students who then walked onto campus to find their classrooms.
Depending on the school site, 50%-70% of all students were said to be returning to grades seven to 12 classrooms, half of which would be coming on Monday and Tuesday as part of Cohort A, and the other half, Cohort B, switching out with the first group for Thursday and Friday instruction. On days a respective student’s cohort is not on campus, they will be doing online learning, and both cohorts will be online Wednesdays.
In the days and weeks leading up to their return to campus, Turner said students, parents and staff alike were trained on new health-conscious processes from hand sanitizing in classrooms, to ensuring the QR code system was familiar to families and staff to making those on campus familiar to the walking path flow through campus.
Turner said that through emails to parents and instructional videos made by students, only about 20% of those families arriving on Monday needed additional help in navigating and understanding the new systems designed for COVID campus life.
Some Placerita students hopping out of their parents’ cars expressed their excitement for the feeling of seeing their friends once again on their familiar campus. For others, it would be the first day physically stepping onto the school they had already technically been a student for months.
“It feels really good to be back because it’s been a while,” said Vincent Charles, a seventh-grade Placerita student. “I’ve been doing well in online school, but it’s something that you have to adjust to. I’m just hoping to come back, and (school) is the same or as I remember it.”
“It’s nice that we get to go back because it’s been so long,” said Liam Gilbert, a Placerita eighth-grader. He later added that he knows it will be different still than what it was last year, with social distancing and the partially full classrooms, but said he was “good to go.”
Latrevea Cole, a parent dropping her seventh-grader off for the first time at Placerita, said while she had some concerns about her son returning to campus, she wanted him to have a normal, socializing education.
“He’s excited to be back just in general and to get that whole junior high experience,” said Cole. “I just hate that it had to happen like this.
“But, hey, we got to get through it,” she added, “we got to keep fighting.”
Placerita teachers stood by with poster boards, welcoming their students and showing solidarity with them in the face of the unusual start to the year for everyone involved. For the remainder of the year, in-person class sizes will be kept around a dozen students each; those who decided to stay online for the remainder of the year or are a part of the cohort not on campus that day, will tune into online assignments, microphones and/or recordings made by their teachers.
“We’ve kind of been talking throughout the week and I’m sure that both the students and the teachers are going to be patient with everyone because there’s going to be another big learning curve,” said Jamie Clack, math teacher and associated student body director at Placerita. “But students and teachers were up to the challenge at the beginning of the year, and I feel like everyone will be up to the challenge and giving each other grace, going through it together.”
Clack said the reduced class sizes would sit at desks 6 feet apart and facing the same direction, everyone would be wearing masks at all times, handwashing and sanitizing would be frequent, there would be no eating/drinking in class, no brunch or lunch except for an extended “passing period,” and directional arrows on the ground needed to be followed.
“It’s going to take some getting used to, but I think that everyone this year has shown they’re super adaptable,” said Clack. “This year is anything but normal, but today feels like a big milestone.”
Despite the challenges and hurdles, district officials said on Monday they’ve worked hard to reach a point to make a return to school a possibility this year, and yet they know they’ll have a lot more to do to ensure the continued safety of their families and staff.
Following Wednesday’s universal distance learning day for all Hart district students, Cohort B will have their own return to campus for Thursday and Friday.
“It is a restart and I always think of it this way,” Kuhlman said Monday, outside of Placerita’s gates, “this is the first step in multiple steps that we are headed down — a road toward everybody being back.”