LIVE BLOG: Anxiety and excitement as LBUSD students head back to class

The fall return to the classroom for thousands of students in the Long Beach Unified will be more momentous this year after 17 months of adjusted schedules or virtual learning—at times both—and new health protocols meant to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Follow our live blog today for coverage of the big day’s events.

State education leaders visit LBUSD’s Roosevelt Elementary

3:52 PM Tuesday, August 31  |  

California education leaders were in town Tuesday as part of a busy day in Long Beach, with 83 campuses opening their gates to 68,000 students on the opening day of the 2021-22 school year.

State superintendent Tony Thurmond and Los Angeles County superintendent Debra Duardo joined Long Beach mayor Robert Garcia and LBUSD superintendent Jill Baker at Roosevelt Elementary in Central Long Beach for a classroom walkthrough and a press conference.

After touring some classrooms and thanking students for wearing their masks without complaint, the contingent moved to the press conference, held in Roosevelt’s play area during lunch. More than 1,000 students were in attendance at Roosevelt today, and with students playing in the background, Thurmond said how happy he was to see students in Long Beach and across California back at school in person this year.

“It’s been an honor to welcome back the students here to their first day of school,” said Thurmond. “And an honor to be in a school district where we know that upwards of 90% of students have returned in person…there is no question that in-person instruction is the best way to meet the academic needs and social emotional well-being of students.”

Thurmond praised the LBUSD for being a leader on getting students back on campus in the spring, as well as pushing for community members to get vaccinated.

Baker said she was happy to have the contingent in town for opening day and to get to spend so much time with students.

“I couldn’t be happier to have our students in the background to show you all why we come to work,” she said. “Today is a celebration of a lot of things…today is about reclaiming what we love to do, which is educate children in our schools.”

LBUSD Board President Juan Benitez pointed out that while almost all of the district’s students returned in person (the LBUSD estimated only 1,000 out of 69,000 students opted out of in-person instruction), the pandemic was still having a major impact on families city-wide.

“Many of our students and families are still facing challenges in their lives, and we have a good opportunity to support and encourage those who’ve been through a tough 18 months,” he said.

Mike Guardabascio

‘My heart is absolutely full today’: Superintendent describes emotional return to school

3:25 PM Tuesday, August 31  |  

LBUSD Superintendent at Roosevelt Elementary School on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. Photo by Tyler Hendrickson.

When Jill Baker first started teaching in the Long Beach Unified School District 29 years ago, it was because of a love of students and the classroom.

When she became the district’s first female superintendent last summer, she did so at a strange time—for the first time in the LBUSD’s history, school wasn’t in session. Baker said that seeing campuses open to 68,000 students on Tuesday was fulfilling for her in a special way, more than a year after she took over as superintendent.

“It’s been the most exciting day of my superintendency,” said Baker during a stop at Roosevelt Elementary Tuesday afternoon. “I stood at several schools this morning, just greeting students and families as they came in. My heart is absolutely full today—this is why we get up and do the work that we do. I got into education to make a difference for students. Watching students come back into these places that love them…that’s why I got into it.”

Baker said that she’s seen emotions running high for parents as well as they’ve dropped their students off for their first full day of instruction since March of 2020.

“Today feels like reclaiming education and really releasing parents and guardians and caregivers of the responsibility to educate their own students during the pandemic,” she said. “Not only does that feel good for school districts, we also think it’s good for the economy. It’s a great day for our community.”

Mike Guardabascio

‘Just a little nervous’: So far a smooth morning as students return at Cabrillo High

9:31 AM Tuesday, August 31  |  Students streamed into campus on the first day of school in West Long Beach, at Cabrillo High School.

“Just a little nervous, but I’m sure everything will be fine,” Karina Garcia, a parent of a freshman, said.

Garcia said her daughter is shy, but she hopes she will meet new people. After school’s over, she said she’ll be taking her daughter out for ice cream.

“Take care of my baby!” one parent hollered at a school staff member at the entrance.

“Have fun!” another parent told her daughter after dropping her off.

Banners greet the class of 2022 at Cabrillo High School on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

Crystal Niebla

First day of school brings traffic jams around Long Beach

9:18 AM Tuesday, August 31  |  Tuesday was the first day of traffic around Long Beach school, and it was brutal. These days, most parents tend to drive their children to school, but on Opening Day, it’s worse than usual with as many as 70,000 new vehicles added to the morning commute, jamming busy intersections around high schools and in otherwise quiet neighborhoods around elementary schools.

At the intersection of Palo Verde Avenue and Spring Street near Millikan, drivers had to wait through multiple signal cycles as minivans and SUVs crawled along, with students leaping from their parents’ gridlocked cars and took to walking or running the rest of the way to campus.

The situation at Wilson High was no better, with apparently all 3,500 students enrolled there being chauffeured to campus, tying up Seventh Street (which is no picnic for drivers even in the height of summer vacation) between Termino and Park avenues, and clogging Ximeno Avenue practically all the way to the coast.

As the school year progresses, traffic should lighten up a bit as more families arrange for car pooling and drivers figure out ways to drop off their charges without getting tangled in the daily business of the school commute.

Maria Mayfield directs traffic and greets students on the first day of school at Mark Twain Elementary, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Tim Grobaty

‘I missed seeing my friends’: Wilson High students return to campus

9:12 AM Tuesday, August 31  |  Masked students at Wilson High School were greeted by a drum line and cheerleaders dancing, cheering and waving pom-poms welcoming students as they walked into the building.

Many groups of students waited outside before entering the school, visibly thrilled to see each other again. For some, the social aspect of returning to school was the most exciting.

“I missed my friends,” said Wilson Freshman Arturo Nieves, 14.

Others described relief at resuming in-person classes.

“I struggled with online classes,” said Christopher Perez, 17, a senior at Wilson, adding that he looked forward to feeling more confident in his studies with in-person classes back in motion.

Students were all masked, even outdoors in front of the school. Some students described feeling relief about the mask-mandates, others were skeptical that students would follow the rules.

“It’s questionable,” Perez said. “I think we’ll all need time to get used to it.”

Thalia Diaz, 17, a senior, said: “We will just have to see how COVID will affect our lives.”

Most parents dropped off their children from their cars, waving goodbye from the drivers seat and wishing them luck on their first day. For Kimberely Folse it was her twins’ first-day of high school.

Kimberley Folse hugs her kids Demin, center and Dreams, right, as she drops of the two freshmen on the first day of school at Wilson High School in Long Beach Tuesday, August 31, 2021. Photo by Thomas Cordova.

“I’m excited because they get to socialize a bit more. And the COVID rules put us more at ease. My kids are fully-vaccinated but I like the mask mandate,” said Kimberely Folse.

Parents Shakira and Montrail Pritchett walked their freshman daughter up to the entrance before saying goodbye.

“She’s more excited than we are,” Shakira Pritchett said. “The only concern we have is that we heard there’s not really any social distancing and the classrooms aren’t that big.”

Her partner, Montrail, said he would have liked to see temperature testing at the door, just as an extra precaution.

Cheerleaders line up to greet students on the first day of school at Wilson High School, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. Photo by Cheantay Jensen.

Cheantay Jensen

First-graders arrive at Lowell Elementary for their first day of in-person class

9:02 AM Tuesday, August 31  |  Kids are lining up for their first day of school at Lowell Elementary in Belmont Shore.

For some first-graders, like 6-year-old Jethro Loya, it’s their full year after mostly virtual kindergarten.

Jethro’s mom, Jazmine Loya, says she’s relieved to have him back for in-person class. “He learns so much better in person,” she said.

Kelly Puente

Students, parents arrive at Patrick Henry Elementary

8:55 AM Tuesday, August 31  |  Irma and Gabriel Quezada dropped off their first and fifth graders at Patrick Henry Elementary Tuesday morning with a bit of apprehension.

Irma said she’s nervous because the class sizes are so much bigger than the hybrid ones held last year, about 16 compared to 35 now.

“It’s more extended contact with more people,” Quezada said. “But it’s for the best. They need their social education.”

Since today is a minimum day, a few parents said they’ll likely celebrate the return to school with a trip to an ice cream shop.

Jason Ruiz

Masked students return to Jordan High in celebratory mood

8:16 AM Tuesday, August 31  |  At Jordan High School in North Long Beach, masked students entered campus through the head of a Panther—the school mascot.

The mood on campus was celebratory and festive: The cheer team and band welcome students coming in through the school’s front gate. “Good morning, so great to see you” could be heard all around campus.

Jordan’s principal Keisha Irving said a line of students formed outside the main gate off Atlantic Avenue just before 7 a.m.

LBUSD Superintendent Jill Baker was among a group faculty members greeting students with blue cheer pom-poms.

“We just saw 2,500 students walk into Jordan High,” Baker said. “We’re just excited to see them. The students are really at ease.”

Meanwhile nervous parents watched their students head to class, including Idalia Vasquez, who peered through a gate as her son, Trigueros Vasquez Luwin, set off for his first year in American high school. Her son had just arrived from Guatemala to study here.

Her son joins Jordan as a junior in 11th grade. He has received one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine and is going in for his second shot on Wednesday, Vasquez said.

“Right now, I’m a little scared because it’s my son’s first time in an American school,” Vasquez said in Spanish. “You see so many children together you get a little nervous.”

Standing nearby was Sherrika Woods as she too watched her son, Elon Simmons, enter Jordan High for the first time as a freshman in 9th grade. She was nervous and excited to be able to see her son mingle with other students and make friends. He’s a player on the high school football team and a member of the school’s mathematics collaborative group.

“The pandemic did throw a damper on things,” Woods said, “but I think they need this to build their next journey.”

Sebastian Echeverry

‘They’re scared and excited to see their friends’

8:11 AM Tuesday, August 31  |  At Mark Twain Elementary in the Lakewood Village area, nervous parents sent kids off to their first day of school—in some cases, their first day of school, ever.

Sam Anongthep took a picture of her daughter and nieces in front of the elementary school. The girls, in fifth and third grades, have not been in class for a year and a half.

“They’re scared but excited to see their friends, to see their teachers,” Anongthep said. “Being on Zoom was hard. They’re nervous, too.”

 

Students return to campus at Mark Twain Elementary School on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

 

Brandon Richardson

‘We’ve been literally counting down the days’

7:51 AM Tuesday, August 31  |  

Today is the day everyone’s been waiting for.

It’s been 536 days since the Long Beach Unified School District closed its campuses due to the COVID-19 pandemic—and today is the day they open again to most students. In the intervening 17 months, the district has changed superintendents, elected two new Board of Education presidents, negotiated a new contract with its teachers, and graduated two classes of high school seniors.

Campuses opened in a limited fashion last spring, but less than half of the LBUSD’s students returned for in-person learning. Today’s opening marks a major turning point in Long Beach, where the LBUSD is estimating that 68,000 students will return to in-person school at the district’s 83 campuses, with only about 1,000 opting to stay home and learn through an Independent Study program.

After a year and a half of figuring out how to squeeze the city-encompassing LBUSD campus culture into a laptop screen, educators and families on social media have largely expressed their excitement about a return to campus.

“That’s what we’ve heard overwhelmingly as well,” said LBUSD Superintendent Jill Baker. “I’m certainly a believer that the magic happens when our educators and our students are in a school building together.”

Anxiety remains, of course, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Some parents wished for a more robust Independent Study program until their students can be vaccinated while others chafed against the district’s decisions to abide by the Los Angeles County indoor mask mandate on campus, and to test unvaccinated students weekly.

The mood among parents, students, teachers and staff has been largely celebratory, however, as parents who’ve been juggling work and childcare for the last 17 months look forward to a return to a more normal schedule, and as teachers who’ve had to completely shift their way of working return to the classrooms they know best.

“We’ve been literally counting down the days,” said Brian Dunning, a parent of an incoming student at Patrick Henry Elementary School.

Education, and the LBUSD in particular, are central to Long Beach’s culture and history. The first schools of what would become the LBUSD were founded in 1885, 12 years before the city officially incorporated. The district is the city’s largest employer (with some 12,000 employees) and its largest property holder. With 69,000 students and their families participating, more than one in five Long Beach residents is either an LBUSD student or parent.

Now, after a unique stretch in the city’s history and the longest closure of LBUSD campuses by far, Long Beach prepares to go back to school.

Cheerleaders line up to greet students on the first day of school at Wilson High School, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. Photo by Cheantay Jensen.

Students at Jordan High School arrive to campus on the first day of school, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021. Photo by Sebastian Echeverry.

Mike Guardabascio

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