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‘Optimistic and excited’: La Jolla public schools open for first day of new year

Kindergartner Michael Lipkovicius signals he's ready for Bird Rock Elementary School.
Kindergartner Michael Lipkovicius signals he’s ready for Bird Rock Elementary School on opening day of the 2021-22 school year Aug. 30.
(Ryan Lipkovicius)

Thousands of students in La Jolla donned masks and backpacks and headed back to campuses as the San Diego Unified School District opened its 2021-22 school year Aug. 30 with continued measures against COVID-19.

This is the first time the five La Jolla public schools operated by San Diego Unified have offered full-time in-person instruction since the pandemic took hold in March 2020. Last school year began in August 2020 online. Then from April to June, students could take a hybrid of on-campus and virtual instruction, or remain online.

Now, SDUSD is offering full-time in-person instruction with no hybrid. Those who are uncomfortable with being on campus or wearing a mask could enroll in the district’s Virtual Academy, which places students in online-only instruction by online-only teachers.

All SDUSD sites offer coronavirus testing weekly. Students are not required to be tested or vaccinated. School staff is required to be vaccinated, per state mandate, or submit to weekly testing.

Everyone on campus is required to wear a mask at all times indoors and wear one outdoors as well except while eating or during “mask breaks,” P.E. classes, sports and performing arts programs. During those times, students should stay six feet from one another, the district said.

Students make their way to Muirlands Middle School on Aug. 30 for the first day of classes in the new school year.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

In recent weeks, parent groups in other parts of San Diego County have spoken out against school mask mandates. But students across the La Jolla Cluster seemed Aug. 30 to have adhered to masks without much, if any, protest.

Ryan Lipkovicius, whose son, Michael, started kindergarten at Bird Rock Elementary School, said Michael is comfortable wearing a mask to school. “Kids are very adaptable,” he said.

Lipkovicius said sending Michael to school “feels good. It’s a relief in the sense that they can start to have social interactions and formal schooling. It’s such a critical age.”

Faye McDonald, who sent a sixth-grader to Muirlands Middle School and a third-grader to Bird Rock, said she’s “optimistic and excited” for an in-person school year, despite the safety protocols. “They need the hands-on experience,” she said.

Muirlands Principal Jeff Luna said the school has worked “to prepare for a safe and welcoming opening to our school year. We recognize the transition back to campus can come with some anxiety. Therefore, we plan on establishing a warm and welcoming environment to ensure our students’ transition back to campus is a positive experience.”

He said Muirlands staff will “emphasize making connections with all our students and building community within our classrooms. We will continue to make the safety and well-being of our students and staff our highest priority.”

Jennifer McDonnell, who has triplets in fifth grade at BRES, said Principal Andi Frost and the teachers there have “fallen in line” with current safety protocols, giving McDonnell “total confidence in the leadership at the school.”

On the drive to school, her kids were saying, “I love Bird Rock; I love this school,” McDonnell said.

Torrey Pines Elementary School kindergarten teacher Oriana Yarid attended TPES herself when she was a child.
(Courtesy of Oriana Yarid)

Oriana Yarid, who is beginning her first year teaching kindergarten at Torrey Pines Elementary School and met many of her students Aug. 27, said the children “were just so happy to come in and to see the classroom.”

Yarid said many parents expressed their excitement via email — only school staff and students are allowed on campuses — and “how excited their kid was to come to school.”

Yarid herself attended Torrey Pines Elementary in kindergarten and first and second grades and said she remembers the teachers then “were so great. I just had the best time and I wanted to come to school every day.”

She said she wants to re-create that feeling for her students this year. “Hopefully they’ll love school the rest of their schooling.”

TPES Principal Nona Richard said she was “thrilled to be opening up Torrey Pines for onsite learning.”

She said the school’s foundation funded an additional teacher, resulting in “the lowest class-size numbers we can remember in recent history. This will help accelerate the growth of our youngest learners who may have been especially impacted during the last school year.”

La Jolla Elementary School Principal Stephanie Hasselbrink said her team “worked hard over the summer preparing our physical campus” for full-time onsite instruction. “It’s going to be a great year at LJES!”

At La Jolla High School, Principal Chuck Podhorsky said that for some students, “entering high school is a time of excitement and trepidation as [they] look forward to new experiences and friendships and engage in in-depth learning.”

“We want to assure you that the staff and faculty of La Jolla High, the student representatives of the Associated Student Body and PTSA as well as countless parent volunteers, are all working tirelessly together to ensure that our newest freshmen will feel welcomed and an integral part of the La Jolla High family,” he said.

Some students new to La Jolla schools expressed nervousness on the first day but also anticipation.

Bird Rock fifth-grader Sailor Martin, who just moved from Hawaii, said she is “excited and nervous” to start the new school year and that she is most looking forward to making new friends.

Seventh-grader Bostyn Guarine and her father, Nick, approach Muirlands Middle School before the beginning of classes Aug. 30.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

At Muirlands, seventh-grader Bostyn Guarine, who recently moved from Arizona, masked up as her parents walked her toward the school.

Bostyn said she felt “a bit nervous but very excited.”

Her mother, Brittany, said she was “excited for [Bostyn] to be back at school.”

“It’s needed,” said her father, Nick. ◆