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‘Bird Squad’: La Jolla teen organizes welcome event for Bird Rock kindergartners

A "Bird Squad" ambassador leads a group of incoming Bird Rock Elementary School kindergarten students in bubble play.
A “Bird Squad” ambassador leads a group of incoming Bird Rock Elementary School kindergarten students in bubble play Aug. 27.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

As some shy incoming kindergartners flocked with their parents to the upper field at Bird Rock Elementary School on Aug. 27, several incoming fifth-graders wearing shirts labeled “Bird Squad” flitted among them, taking the youngsters under their wings.

The students gathered as part of a welcoming day the last Friday before the start of the new school year Monday, Aug. 30.

The event, organized by La Jolla High School junior and Bird Rock Elementary alumna Kate Peay, included several stations where Bird Squad members led the 67 kindergarten and transitional kindergarten students through activities such as bubble-making and an obstacle course.

There also were tables for parents to see class rosters and buy BRES merchandise. Several parents chatted near the tables.

La Jolla High School junior Kate Peay stands with fifth-grade members of the Bird Rock Elementary School "Bird Squad."
La Jolla High School junior Kate Peay stands with members of the Bird Rock Elementary School “Bird Squad,” a group of fifth-graders Kate established to help welcome new kindergartners to campus.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Bird Squad member Catalina McDonnell said the event was “pretty fun. I like helping out with kids.”

Jakana Thomas, whose incoming kindergartner, Noah Appel, attended the event, said the day was “great and well-organized.”

“The Bird Squad is amazing,” Thomas said. “[Noah] is really shy and as soon as he walked in, they came and embraced him and took him to play.”

Kelsi Ghajari, whose daughter, Leili, also is starting kindergarten at BRES, said she is “very excited” to start the new year.

Kate decided to have the BRES event since the school had not planned its own and she wanted to give the youngest incoming students “a full experience meeting each other” before the first day of school. That’s especially since parents won’t be able to walk their children to their classrooms on the first day, as they have in previous years, due to COVID-19-related restrictions.

“When I saw that issue,” Kate said, “I just had to create an event to make sure that everyone was getting along and that everyone felt super comfortable and had a dreamy experience at Bird Rock, like I did.”

Kate said the Bird Squad members are “going to be very, very important on the first day of school for the kindergartners,” helping out in the parents’ absence.

“The Bird Squad members are going to be that friend that’s going to be there and go, ‘You know what, hey, it’s OK. There’s people here for you,’” she said.

Incoming kindergartners and their parents gather at Bird Rock Elementary School on Aug. 27.
Incoming kindergartners and their parents gather at Bird Rock Elementary School on Aug. 27 to meet one another ahead of the new school year.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

In pre-pandemic years, Kate said, there were “typically play dates over the summer” for kids entering kindergarten and their parents to meet.

“Everyone was a little bit disjointed this year, so … this is just going to be the day where we have every single kindergartner and [transitional kindergartner] … all meet each other and make sure that when they get to the classroom, it’s not a super shock,” she said.

Bird Squad member Lilly Turk said she was looking forward to showing the new kindergarten students around BRES. “I like babysitting and helping out with little kids; they always like being around me,” she said. “I have three younger siblings, so I’m used to that kind of stuff.”

Kate founded the Bird Squad as part of her work for the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest achievement in the Girl Scouts. To earn the award, she had to come up with a project to help her community, she said.

“You also need to make sure that it’s a sustainable project that lasts for years after you have completed it,” Kate said. She hopes the Bird Squad continues indefinitely.

Kate said establishing the Bird Squad — which currently has about 20 members — started in the spring, enrolling then-fourth-graders and meeting a few times over the summer for “official training.”

“It’s a very all-inclusive club,” she said. “We make sure that the comfort and kindness is spread to everyone.” ◆