Students. Parents. Guardians. End of Day. Everett Middle School. Reopening.
Students exit Everett Middle School and meet up with their parents and guardians on Aug. 16 at the end of their first day of in-person classes of the fall 2021 semester. Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz.

An air of excitement was building up in the final minutes of the school day — the first day for San Francisco public schools — as parents and guardians waited on the front steps of Everett Middle School for their children to rush out.

And, there they were. Students, backpacks hanging from shoulders, shirts askew, exiting the doors — some to cheers and applause from several parents and guardians waiting outside.

The controlled chaos marking the end of the school day was expected — and missed. Students interviewed at Cesar Chavez Elementary, Buena Vista Horace Mann K-8, Everett Middle School and Mission High School recounted a first day back that seemed nearly normal with only a few vestiges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“You get to play with people, instead of just being cooped up watching videos,” said Sammy after his first day of sixth grade at Everett Middle School. “I actually got to meet a few cool people.”

Sammy, a sixth-grader at Everett Middle School, poses for a portrait with his parents, Stephen and Shoshana on Aug. 16, the first day of the fall 2021 semester, in front of his school. (Photo by David Mamaril Horowitz / Mission Local)

Yaritza, a first-time student at Mission High School, said students generally knew to keep their distance and cover up. Most were pretty cautious, she added.

And what a difference in-person learning made, she said. 

“You could understand better, you can ask the teacher questions, and they’re willing to revise it with you,” she said. “When you’re on Zoom, I don’t think the teacher knows you’re trying to reach out to them.”

At Buena Vista Horace Mann, a faculty member alerted parents via a bullhorn that they’d have to call their students one by one; meanwhile, the students, masked, hung around physically distanced cones and waited. Quickly, parents swarmed to the front, each telling the assistant vice principal their kid’s name so they could take them home. 

Meanwhile, tagalong siblings tugged at mothers and begged for ice cream from the strategically positioned paletera outside. Still masked, students squeezed by waiting parents and reunited with their own. 

Benji, a fifth-grader at Buena Vista Horace Mann, said school was pretty good, but “it was all different.” He explained that, because of Covid-19, kids must stay with their class, meaning he couldn’t interact with about half of his friends.

“Recess was very different,” he said. “There was no free-for-all in the garden or play structure. Now, it’s finish lunch and go to this specific section.” 

Regardless, Benji finds in-person way less “boring” than Zoom class. Plus, last year, his WiFi kept disconnecting, causing issues. The best part about being back? “Being with my friends, and now knowing we can go to school.” 

Flores Colin emerged from the schoolyard, her winter coat from the morning shed. After the day finished, she knew a lot more; not only did she love her new classroom on the third floor — “I’ve only been on the second one before” — but she raved over her new teacher, who was especially kind, she said. 

“She’s new for me, but a very good teacher,” she said. 

Colin felt compelled to whip out her cleaning supplies in the bathroom to wipe down surfaces. And, she said, there is some getting used to classmates again. “They keep talking and talking and talking and talking,” she said. 

Yaskera, eight, befriended a classmate, Andrea — her favorite part of the day. In the classroom, she learned the importance of words. “You can send messages and talk,” the Buena Vista Horace Mann third-grader said in Spanish. Her favorite word? “Friend.”

Haniel, seven, said she’s most excited to hang out with her best friend Talia, who she just met today. “Tomorrow, with my best friend, I’m going to have two sandwiches with chocolate,” Haniel declared.

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David’s one of those San Francisco natives who gets excited whenever City College is mentioned. He has journalism degrees from there and San Francisco State University, graduating from the latter in May 2021. In college, David played five different roles as an editor at student news publications and reported as an intern for three local newspapers, mostly while waiting tables at the Alamo Drafthouse. His first job was at Mitchell's Ice Cream.

REPORTER. Annika Hom is our inequality reporter through our partnership with Report for America. Annika was born and raised in the Bay Area. She previously interned at SF Weekly and the Boston Globe where she focused on local news and immigration. She is a proud Chinese and Filipina American. She has a twin brother that (contrary to soap opera tropes) is not evil.

Follow her on Twitter at @AnnikaHom.

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  1. Thank you for this very sweet story. As a staff member at one of the schools featured here, I can say it felt really good to be back!

  2. The horrific teachers’ union, claiming to be advocates for children and for families, and the BOE, are to blame for the fact that most teenagers didn’t have any in person school last year in San Francisco. How these people can pretend to fight for students is the greatest mystery. How do they sleep at night? How are they at peace with this self-interest that pretends to be student advocacy? They disgust me. Absolute disgust.

    1. This is misplaced anger at its most absurd. Students didn’t have in-person school last year because we are in the middle of a pandemic. Covid is highly contagious, and public schools were closed to ensure students’ safety. Public schools do not have the facilities that private schools have – classes are larger, and the budget is already stretched, making the necessary sanitizing of buildings from Covid, and space to maintain social distancing difficult, if not impossible. Public schools in SF were not open last year because it was unsafe to do so. It was a difficult year for everyone, but the union is not responsible for Covid. It advocated for student and faculty safety. As a parent, and retired teacher, I deeply appreciate that.

      1. Right on, Christiana. As a mom, who survived a Covid outbreak at my daughter’s preschool, I am glad they proceeded with a sense of caution and safety. I am vaccinated. My daughter and I both got Covid, along with several children (ages 2-5) and their parents.

    2. Hope everyone has signed on to recall those BOE members who made all the mess possible! It is time to hold them to account.

      My older teenagers are having a very hard time going back after 18 months away. Not all sunshine for sure. They are feeling totally overwhelmed and exhausted, pushed right back into “normal” after so much isolation.