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First Day Back At School A ‘Little Weird’ For Many San Diego Unified Students

Junior Kate Chasin in front of Canyon Hills High School, formerly Junipero Se...

Photo by Matthew Bowler

Above: Junior Kate Chasin in front of Canyon Hills High School, formerly Junipero Serra High School, on the first day San Diego Unified Schools reopened for in-person learning, April 12, 2021.

For the first time in over a year, Kate Chasin left her house Monday morning and headed off to school.

“I’m feeling good, now that I’m in my clothes, I have my bag, I have my travel mug of coffee,” Chasin said as she was getting into her car. “I’m ready to go and be at school.”

Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

Chasin is a 17-year-old junior at Canyon Hills High, formerly known as Serra High School in Tierrasanta. She’s one of about 50,000 students in the San Diego Unified School District who returned to the classroom Monday for part-time, in-person learning.

“It kinda feels like the first day of school,” Chasin said. “ It feels like I’m in September, but it’s April, which is a little weird but I’m ready to go back.”

RELATED: San Diego School Officials Say Few COVID-19 Cases Coming From Sports

Reported by Joe Hong , Video by Matthew Bowler

As Chasin observed, the return by nearly half of San Diego Unified’s approximately 100,000 students is hardly a return to normalcy. The district has strict health and safety measures in place, and students won’t yet be able to hug their friends or teachers who they haven’t seen since the pandemic first shut down schools in March 2020.

Chasin said she expects to feel somewhat isolated on her first day back.

“And very lonely,” she said. “I know it’s gonna be a little off because it’s not totally normal. But I’m looking forward to having a normal school day.”

San Diego Unified was among several large districts in the county to reopen Monday.

At Sweetwater Union High School District in the South Bay, district officials approved a plan that would bring back 10% of students, prioritizing students with disabilities and those who have fallen behind during distance learning. Meanwhile, Chula Vista Elementary School District welcomed about 60% of its enrolled students back to campuses on a part-time basis.

Poway Unified School District’s middle and high schools resumed in-person instruction in March. About 54% of middle schoolers and 44% of high schoolers have returned to the classroom.

RELATED: Half Of San Diego Unified Students Expected To Return To Classrooms Next Week

San Diego Unified officials, along with San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, were at Encanto Elementary School Monday morning to celebrate the reopening of campuses. Superintendent Cindy Marten thanked both teachers and the staff working behind the scenes to ensure schools are safe.

“Whether it’s food services, landscaping services, custodial services, or getting teachers prepared for online learning through professional development, we’re doubling down on our commitment to equity,” Marten said. “We’re making sure our teachers are prepared to teach our students and give them what they need when they need it in the way that they need it when everything around them has changed.”

About three-quarters of the district’s students will be on campus four days a week for three hours of in-person instruction. For Chasin, that’s enough to feel hopeful about an eventual return to normalcy.

“I’m excited schools are reopening. It’s about time,” she said. “It’s April. I’m ready. Let’s go.”

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Photo of Joe Hong

Joe Hong
Education Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an education reporter, I'm always looking for stories about learning. My favorite education stories put a student's face on bigger policy issues. I regularly sift through enrollment data, test scores and school budgets, but telling student-centered stories is my top priority.

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