Fresh haircuts, new sneakers and personalized face masks were common sights at Newhall School District and Sulphur Springs Union School District schools on Thursday as the two districts celebrated their 2021-22 back-to-school days.
Parents, staff and students at both school districts — much like their contemporaries in the other three public school districts in the Santa Clarita Valley, who all returned to campuses on Tuesday — expressed near universal excitement as they navigated the familiar scramble associated with any other back-to-school morning drop-off.
Even with the masks being required for students and staff at all times while indoors, as per a Los Angeles County Department of Public Health mandate, those present at the first day of school on Thursday said being back in the normal flow of things was worth a little inconvenience.
“It’s been wonderful, she’s so excited to be back,” said Esther Dennis, referencing her Valencia Valley second grader. “I think after last year, we had a really hard last year, we’re pretty excited to be back on campus.”
Dennis praised her daughter’s teachers for all they did to make distance learning as good of an experience as possible, but she said her daughter wanted to be back on campus with her teacher.
“The kids need to be with their friends. I feel like socialization is the most important thing in school alongside academics,” said Robin Lloyd, a mother of two Valencia Valley students. “They need socialization, especially at a young age.”
Both Lloyd and Dennis said the district had communicated clearly with them over the summer about what the health-safety expectations would be for the return to school, and both said their kids were fine with wearing masks while indoors.
Fellow elementary school parent, but in the Sulphur Springs Union School District, Michael Smith said his Fair Oaks fifth grader barely noticed wearing her mask anymore.
“It’s just pretty much one of those things where it’s a habit,” said Smith. “You don’t even realize, you just put it on as though it’s just another daily routine.”
Smith added that his family had done a couple family trips during the pandemic, and while distance learning had made that convenient for them, his child was excited to head back into the classroom and see her friends.
The joy of being back to in-person instruction seemed to be shared by administrators on Thursday.
Newhall School District Superintendent Jeff Pelzel said the district was excited to move forward with a focus this year on social-emotional needs of students, and that the staff would be trying to build a sense of community in each classroom.
“We’ve been preparing not just for the academic piece, but the social-emotional piece so that we can address all kids’ needs,” said Valencia Valley Principal Amy Gaudette. “As you know there are some students who haven’t been on campus for a year and a half, so there’s lots planned in terms of how to get classes up and running and feeling safe and warm.”
“The start of a school year is always exciting for our students, staff and families,” said Pelzel, “but after almost 17 months away from our school sites for some families, this year brings that excitement to an entirely new level.”
“Students were excited to meet their teachers and see their friends, and our PTA made the day extra special by ensuring we had ‘welcome back’ signs all around our campus,” said Fair Oaks Principal Julie McBride, later adding, “We are going to have an incredible year.”
Sulphur Springs Superintendent Catherine Kawaguchi agreed with McBride, saying that the staff was so happy to see children back at school.
“Our teachers and support staff have been working hard to prepare for our students to return,” Kawaguchi said, “and we are looking forward to an amazing year with our students and their families.”