It was a first day of school with all the same energy of a warm Fall morning. Kids lined up along the sidewalk outside Ocean Beach Elementary while anxious parents matted down cowlicks and shushed younger siblings not old enough to go to school with big brother or sister.
Only this was a few months past that traditional Fall first day of school. This was a chilly Spring morning after a pandemic forced thousands of San Diego children and teenagers to spend most of the school year staring at a computer screen.
MJ McLeod stood in the grass with her parents. She started TK-4 online and never stepped foot inside a big kid classroom. Monday was the first day of in-person learning for most of the students in the San Diego Unified School District.
“I feel excited,” she squealed from behind a Batman face mask. “This is my first day!”
Then the first bell rang. MJ looked at her mom and grabbed her around the neck.
“Mommy!” her high-pitched voice was filled with joy.
Mom looked like her mind fast-forwarded to dropping off the 5-year-old at college. Dad looked like he just walked her down the aisle in a white dress.
“I know, I’m crying, too,” MJ’s mother said. “I’m excited for her. She’s stoked. We’ve been on the computer for the last few months and we weren’t really expecting this as our first school experience.”
They held onto MJs little sister as the big schoolgirl walked out of sight and into Joanne Ensign’s TK-4 classroom.
“I’m so excited to see bodies in chairs, real live bodies in chairs again,” said Ensign. “I’m excited about hearing the voice without any delay or glitches.”
The technical glitches were still there as Ensign struggled to get the Zoom started between the children in the classroom and the handful who decided Monday was too soon to return to in-person schooling.
“Can’t sugarcoat it,” sighed Ensign. “We’re having a lot of technology problems.”
Thankfully, the first assignment for the class was as low-tech as it gets: Draw a picture about how you feel. MJ drew a colorful self-portrait of a very happy girl.
“Oh my gosh, that was beautiful,” gushed her teacher. “I’m glad we had a few minutes to honor where they’re at.”