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.”
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.