Santa Maria’s school districts, which are among the largest in the area, reopened campuses to a portion of students Tuesday. District officials were cautious in their approach of in-person learning.
Seniors in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District received an enthusiastic “welcome back” upon their campus re-entry Tuesday. All other grades are in distance learning, but district officials are reevaluating the schedule weekly.
Balloon arches in school colors ushered students to COVID-19 screening checkpoints, and school administrators gave gifts to the class of 2021.
Pioneer Valley High School Principal Shanda Herrera welcomed seniors with miniature candy bars and cloth masks imprinted with the school logo.
“It was wonderful to see our seniors at all of our high schools today,’’ Superintendent Antonio Garcia said in an email statement. “Our staff have worked hard to provide a safe, heartfelt welcome for our students and it was evident that our seniors appreciated it.”
The campuses of PVHS, Santa Maria High School and Ernest Righetti High School each had around 200 of their 600 enrolled seniors. Delta High School, as a continuation school, has fewer students.
Another 200 or so students will attend campus today.
“I can’t wait to talk to my teacher face to face,” student Shamar Cabrera said. “It’s surreal, it’s been so long.’’
“As long as everyone continues to adhere to COVID-19 prevention protocols with fidelity, we will safely be able to navigate our way to the end of the school year,’’ Kenny Klein, the district’s public information officer, said. “Very exciting and inspiring day.’’
Santa Maria-Bonita School District students also began to return to in-person learning. Grades TK-1 entered classrooms Tuesday, and grades 2-4 will join next Tuesday.
Fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade students come to campus May 4, and eighth grade starts May 11 — a little less than a month away from the last day, June 8.
The transition hasn’t been simple for teachers, who are now balancing students in-person and online.
Jose Segura, president of the Santa Maria Elementary Education Association, heard reports of some students not showing up Tuesday.
He’s optimistic that they’ll return soon, as he can think of reasons families might have missed the first day, like a new bus schedule.
He describes the reopening process as “fairly chaotic” because the initial plan discussed a few months ago by the school board has been through constant changes.
But the district seems to have its “ducks in a row” now, according to Mr. Segura.
“The biggest challenges I think are going to be the inherent inequity of having kids in person in the classroom and students learning from home at the same time,” he said.
He’d like the district to consider an online academy format next year so distance learners can have a specialized program separate from in-person.
Additionally, classroom learning isn’t like what it used to be.
“There are all the health and safety issues and concerns that are going to play a part in making school just very different, even if you’re in person,” he said.
To prepare for her students’ return, seventh-grade English teacher Ryah Cooley wants to purchase cloth masks for her classroom.
She took to GoFundMe to raise $200, which she exceeded in less than a day.
“I am so excited to see my students in person again, but I want to make sure they are able to stay safe and healthy at school,” she said on the fundraising page.
The youngest students haven’t attended school prior to the pandemic, so the transition is overwhelming for them. But luckily, they’ve had their same teacher throughout the school year.
“We’re gonna do our best to get through the rest of the year and make sure that every student gets what they need,” Mr. Segura said. “We’re going to do the best we possibly can, whether kids are learning from home or they’re learning from the classroom. Every teacher is committed to making sure that every student gets the best possible education, between now and the last day of the school year.”