For the first time since March 13, 2020, Village and Silver Strand Elementary schools have students physically back in their classrooms. “This is such an exciting morning,” said Village Elementary Principal Dr. Heidi Bergener on Monday as transitional kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade students lined up to go into the school, “it’s seven months in the making and it feels amazing to finally have our students here!” To gradually ease into the ‘new normal’ safety requirements for schools, second and third grade was added to the mix on Tuesday, and fourth and fifth grade on Wednesday. All elementary grade levels will be on campus on Thursday.
Like all San Diego County schools, Coronado Unified began the school year in August in full distance learning mode. Following multiple changes in State and County health mandates for opening schools, CUSD officials continually updated and amended reopening plans. “The planning, scheduling, and logistics of this process require a Herculean effort by so many members of our staff, Governing Board, and parent community,” wrote Superintendent Karl Mueller in his weekly newsletter.
Clearly the elementary students lining up to go to their classrooms for the first time were not concerned with how or who made it happen. The excitement and joy of being back at school and seeing classmates and teachers in person, even with masks on and socially distanced, was palpable at the school gate. There is nothing like the first day of school, even if it is in October.
Parents were equally energized by the return to school. Laura O’Sullivan, whose three sons attend Village Elementary said, “Davis was excited to join his big brothers this year at Village as a kindergarten student. He had a tour of the campus in the spring with Dr. Bergener and was extremely comfortable and excited being escorted into campus today to meet his new teacher, Ms. Eldridge.”
She also acknowledged the challenge it took to get schools open this year, “I appreciate the hard work the district has done to get our kids back onto campus during the ever evolving pandemic and changing state guidelines.”
Both Village and Silver Strand are on an a.m./p.m. hybrid schedule. Each class is divided into morning and afternoon cohorts. The morning session is from 8:00-10:45 a.m. and the afternoon session is from 12:15-3 p.m. Students will not eat lunch at school, but the weekly grab and go meal service that began last March will continue. Students are on campus Monday to Thursday with distance learning on Friday.
The district’s distance learning program, known as BRIDGE, has been up and running since August and will continue for those who choose to learn remotely. CUSD gave families the option and approximately 85 percent of elementary students opted to return for in-person learning. Silver Strand Elementary Principal Jenny Moore was mindful of serving both types of students, “It’s great to have our ‘reasons why’ back in our facilities, bringing life to our campus! We are also busy supporting our students who are remaining in BRIDGE and learning and accessing instruction from home.” The district has designated one teacher per grade level to facilitate the online BRIDGE class.
CUSD has created a multi-phased reopening plan to facilitate in-person learning. During Phase One, a small cohort of moderate to severe special education students returned on Sept. 15. District staff were able to adjust to the strict protocols and guidelines required for in-person learning, and monitor the cohorts of students and staff for two weeks before the larger Phase Two group began this week. Phase Three is scheduled for Oct. 26 and will include expanded cohorts in grades six through 12.
Prior to returning to school, parents must complete and sign the district’s “Health and Safety Agreement for In-Person Instruction.” Students will have daily at-home and at-school health screenings, adhere to mandatory face covering rules, and comply with all on-site directives including strict distancing and cohorting.
“It’s a lot of work and our site principals and their amazing staff have been working around the clock on the many details required to open,” said Mueller, “Standing at the gate and watching arrival this morning and the excitement of our parents and students makes it all worth it. As we monitor our elementary cohorts, we are actively designing secondary cohorts for Phase Three. We can’t wait to expand experiences across CUSD later this month. There is nothing like the first day of school!”