Back to the future: Elementary school reunions help La Jolla High Class of 2020 remember while looking ahead

La Jolla High School graduating seniors who attended Bird Rock Elementary School reunite via Zoom.
La Jolla High School graduating seniors who attended Bird Rock Elementary School reunite with one another and Bird Rock Elementary staff members via Zoom as they prepare for their lives beyond high school.

La Jolla’s three public elementary schools held reunions this month of their Classes of 2013 as those students prepared to graduate from La Jolla High School, keeping traditions alive via new platforms.

“It has been a long-standing tradition to have this annual event at all three elementary schools in La Jolla,” said Kim Russell, parent of Bird Rock Elementary School alumna and 2020 LJHS graduate Elle Russell. Kim Russell organized this year’s Bird Rock Elementary reunion with kindergarten teacher Lorene LaCava.

The reunions are “traditionally an opportunity to reconnect with your elementary school teachers and classmates [and] reminisce about times at BRE,” Kim Russell said. “All teachers who taught that group of students, whether working at BRE, a different school or now retired, do their best to attend. They truly enjoy seeing how the now-seniors have grown.”

La Jolla public and private schools are planning to reopen their campuses following a June 15 county health order allowing San Diego schools to resume in-person classes following the months-long closure and distance learning forced by the coronavirus pandemic.

The BRE reunion was held via Zoom due to coronavirus-related restrictions preventing the usual in-person event. Thirty-five students and 10 teachers attended, with each student sharing post-graduation plans and a favorite memory of BRE.

Elle Russell said participating in the BRE reunion was a “good experience. I really appreciated seeing all my teachers again. It was good to see my former classmates’ faces as well.”

Meeting on Zoom was “almost better” than an in-person reunion, she said. “We were all super connected and [the teachers] got to go one on one with each of us and ask us where were going to college, what we were planning to study. We shared fun memories.”

A common theme among the memories shared was “a strong sense of connection to friends and teachers that still lived in their minds and hearts,” Kim Russell said. “We all agreed the connections we make in life are incredibly important.”

Russell closed out the reunion with the students’ fifth-grade theme song, “Hall of Fame,” which she said was the “highlight for me as an observer; everyone’s face lit up with huge smiles and some even got up and danced.”

Susie Fuller, whose son Lex attended Torrey Pines Elementary School and just graduated from LJHS, said she was compelled to organize the Torrey Pines reunion after Lex received “a letter to himself from 10 years ago that he wrote in second grade and his TPES teacher, Mr. Serafin, saved and mailed to him” 10 years later.

The TPES reunion involved its Class of 2013, staff members and teachers (current and retired) and former Principal Jim Solo.

“It broke my heart that all of the senior activities were canceled” because of the coronavirus, Susie Fuller said. She jumped into planning mode, working with other parents and TPES staff to create videos and custom Zoom backgrounds with TPES and LJHS logos.

The Torrey Pines Elementary class of 2013, many of whom recently reunited as they graduated from high school.
A photo shows the Torrey Pines Elementary School fifth-graders of 2013, many of whom reunited recently as they graduated from high school as the Class of 2020.

“The reunion was a hit,” Fuller said. The virtual event had 60 participants and featured shared memories, post-high school plans and a speech by Solo, whom Fuller said “emotionally expressed that if anyone ever asks him what stands out as the highlight of his career, he would say his time as principal at Torrey Pines Elementary School.”

Lex Fuller said the reunion was “awesome; it was great to see everybody,” noting that the reunion included not only TPES alumni at LJHS but the entire class. “It’s really cool, growing up with them and now seeing where they end up.”

La Jolla Elementary School Principal Stephanie Hasselbrink organized the Zoom reunion for her school’s 2013 fifth-graders. Normally, the yearly reunion invites LJHS graduates who went to LJES to a pizza event with trivia games among students and teachers.

“It’s a nice way of bringing everyone back together,” Hasselbrink said.

This year’s virtual event had about 30 students along with their former teachers, including Hasselbrink, who taught fifth grade at La Jolla Elementary from 2011 to 2015.

Hasselbrink showed the participants a slide show featuring their fifth-grade yearbook photos and invited them to share their plans. “It was really neat and special to hear what the kids will be doing,” she said.

Hasselbrink also asked the students how they’re feeling. “This is such a different time to go off to college,” she said. “But it sounded like they’re excited for what’s to come. They’ve taken everything that’s happened in stride and learned from it, and I just feel so proud of our kids and how resilient they are.” ◆