Excitement, nervousness at the start of the 2021-2022 school year in Oakland

Kaytlynn King, her husband and two of their children, including Darielle, 4, walked through the doors of Lockwood STEAM Academy on Monday morning, ready for the first day of Darielle’s transitional kindergarten. As they posed for a photo of the first day of class in front of a giant mural on the Havenscourt campus, King fought back tears.

“After going through the pandemic, her ability to go to school is so exciting,” King said. “I am extremely nervous but I put my faith in God and in the school to keep it safe.”

Mixed feelings were common in Oakland schools on Monday, the first day of the 2021-2022 school year. For most students, this is the first time in almost a year and a half that they have been able to learn in their classrooms. While students and teachers were thrilled to be on campus together again in person, coronavirus cases are on the rise in Alameda County, and the Oakland Unified School District is following state and government guidelines. county, including universal masking and health exams for campus staff and visitors, to prevent the spread of the virus. The district does not have a vaccination mandate in place for teachers and no testing is required. District officials are encouraging students to get vaccinated if they are old enough and have partnered with health organizations to run pop-up vaccination clinics on school campuses. Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell pointed out that the district provides access to testing at 10 sites across the city and is working with community organizations to coordinate further.

But for many parents and staff, their nervousness about the pandemic faded once they saw children climbing jungle gyms, running on the asphalt or sitting with each other. on classroom rugs.

Jordan Baxter Stern, music teacher at West Oakland Middle School, is very happy to get to know his students and to play music together in person, rather than on Zoom. This year he will be teaching a string instrument course and his wind instrument course will be held outdoors, as instruments like trumpets, flutes and saxophones cannot be played with a mask. As Stern, in his sophomore year of teaching, tidied up the music room on Monday, he spoke of his hopes of being able to bring professional artists to perform in front of the class and take trips to a record store.

“It was crazy trying to get to know the college kids on Zoom and teach music late,” he said. “Being in person is much better.”

Gloria Mendoza started her day welcoming families to Lockwood STEAM Academy, a new school created by the merger of Futures Elementary and Community United Elementary School in East Oakland. Mendoza is the School Culture and Climate Ambassador, a new position created for School Safety Officers, whose roles were redesigned following the removal of the Oakland School Police Department the year last.

“No more officer Mendoza. No more handcuffs or uniforms because it can be intimidating, ”she said of the change. His new uniform is a collared shirt and jeans. “They are so excited to be in person again. It’s like Christmas.

Most of the district’s 35,000 students attend the school in person, while about 850 have chosen to enroll in Sojourner Truth, the district’s independent study school, so they can continue to learn virtually. Across the district, teachers and staff are focused on a restorative restart of the year: taking the first two weeks of school to make sure students feel comfortable with each other and with their children. teachers, recognizing the loss and upheaval of the past 17 months, and finding out how to be in school again.

Superintendent Johnson-Trammell visited several schools throughout the day, as well as other district officials, Mayor Libby Schaaf, State Superintendent of Public Education Tony Thurmond, members of City Council and school board directors.

At Coliseum College Prep Academy, all desks in a sixth grade class were pushed to the back or side of the room. In the center of the room, the students were seated in a large circle while their teacher, Ainate Yiaueki led the community circle. The goal was for the students to share their thoughts and feelings about the first day and listen to each other.

“The community circle is where we listen with our hearts. We respect what others have to say, ”Yiaueki said.

Among the usual hallway and classroom decorations, like words of encouragement and the alphabet, reminders to wash hands and wear a mask were ubiquitous. Social distancing requirements were relaxed in all OUSD schools, so that students were able to sit next to each other in classrooms and play games that included touching during recess, unlike the early spring.

For some teachers, the first day of school meant reassuring their students that they were ready for their new year. In Dale Turner’s fourth-grade class at Horace Mann Elementary School in the Fairfax neighborhood of East Oakland, students began a math exercise using their names: each letter of the alphabet corresponded to numbers one through 26, and the students were asked to add the value of the letters on their behalf.

But before he started, he asked his students, whose last face-to-face learning experience was second grade, what they thought about math. One student raised his hand to say that he had heard that fourth grade math was difficult, while another student added that they had never done a division before. Turner reassured them that they were up to the challenge.

“We’re going to go through the things you did in third grade and just add them,” he said.

For Donna McClinto, a kindergarten teacher at Lockwood STEAM, the first day of school brought back memories of her first day of kindergarten 31 years ago in the same class she taught. His students would draw pictures to describe how they got to school that day.

“I remember walking into class and my mom looking out the window,” she said. “The only difference is that we no longer have the blackboard.

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