Grant Miller, 4, walked up Bartlett Street decked out in his light-up Spider-Man sneakers. His father and best friend for the summer, Nick, trailed behind him. The sun was still waking up, peeking from behind the clouds. The father-son pair pulled up to Zaida T. Rodriguez Early Education School at 7:30 a.m. for the first day back to school.
“We got here a little early,” Nick said, seeing that no other families had arrived yet. “But we’ll plan better next time.”
After a summer filled with trips to the playground for the father-son pair, Nick was eager for Grant to play with kids his own age again. He wasn’t the only parent who felt that way.
“I am very excited,” Erica said as she took a deep breath. She was happy to start dropping off her son, Jake, in the morning, and for him to start interacting with kids again. She was also thrilled to start “having a little free time.”
But perhaps more excited than the bright-eyed children and the exhausted parents were the teachers.
“I’m SO excited! I was here until 7 p.m. last night, getting ready,” Jamie, one of the teachers, exclaimed from the entrance. “Look at these beautiful children. Four to five years old is such a great age.”
For the first day of school last year, many parents expressed concern over the Covid-19 pandemic. Currently, masks are not mandated in schools, but are highly recommended. School opens this year as a new disease, monkeypox, spreads through San Francisco (and, of course, covid persists). San Francisco’s Board of Education drew regional and national coverage last year for its choices regarding school closures and renamings, and was the subject of the first recall election San Francisco had seen in 20 years. On top of all that, the San Francisco Unified School District is hemorrhaging students, staff and money.
But, whatever worries children and parents harbor about the district and world, they were not top-of-mind on this day. “We wore masks. We never got [covid]. He’s vaccinated so it’s not as much of a concern anymore,” Nick Miller told Mission Local.
Even with masks, children and school staff recognized one another. And these were happy reunions.
Rather, a bigger concern for parents than disease or the district’s insolvency was whether children would let their parents drop them off for their first day of school. “It’s his first time going to school. … I’m not sure if he’s going to let me leave him there alone,” Mary said while holding hands with her son, Gabriel. “This is the first time he is going to be exposed to more kids his age, especially after covid.”
But Gabriel didn’t seem to show one bit of anxiety. “I’m excited!” he said. As he was talking to Mission Local, a pair of twins and a mother walked up to the school. “Look! Twins!” he said.
The buzz wasn’t just at Zaida T. Rodriguez.
At 7:30 a.m., parents were already huddled onto the blacktop of Bryant Elementary School, listening to the bilingual instructions of the social worker, Ms. Brigitte. “First grade, English,” she announced on the microphone, inducing a swarm of students to scurry to their classrooms.
Duarte Velazquez held the hand of Alison Velazquez, who started first grade.
How’s Alison feeling?
“FELIZ!” she said. “I don’t have to stay at home with my mom anymore,” she added in Spanish.
Another mom cried while watching her first-born, Celia, head off to kindergarten; her eyes wouldn’t waver from her daughter. “I’m excited, proud,” said the mom, who did not provide her name. Celia brought a gifted backpack from Colombia and got a taste of school during an open house. “Covid kept us from having normal classroom settings. I think she’ll have a lot of fun.”
At George R. Moscone Elementary School, Ezra, 6, shook the hand of a Mission Local reporter. “It’s my first day of first grade,” he said matter-of-factly, standing outside the gate. Ezra is a flashy dresser. He showed off a beaded bracelet he made in Moscone’s summer program, and his mom, Caty, wears a matching one he made her.
“I am excited for my first day. I am nervous for my first day,” Ezra said. But Caty hoped the friendship bracelets would calm Ezra’s first-day nerves. They lock wrists to display them side-by-side. “It’s my ‘Ezra candy’!” Caty said.
At Cesar Chavez Elementary, Leana, who’s entering the third grade, pulled up to the school like it was a red carpet. Her father handed her a pink metallic backpack before she rushed into the building.
“She’s been counting down the days all summer,” said Mateo, who dropped her off today at 8:50 a.m. Leana enjoyed spending summer with her guinea pigs, but she is ready to see her friends in the classroom.
As a K-through-8, Buena Vista Horace Mann starts its classes at the relatively sane hour of 9:30. Parents chasing a wide age-range of children showed up at the Valencia-side gate a few ticks before the opening bell.
A few of the smaller children needed tears dried. There were many goodbye hugs. Adolescent children too old for such public displays of parental affection, however, couldn’t seem to wait to get to school. A high percentage of children and parents were masked; one mother asking for masks was directed to the central office.
Ingrid Giron was carrying a 3.9-pound chihuahua as she walked up to Buena Vista Horace Mann.
“This is my other daughter. Her name is ‘Shy,’” Giron explained. “I have a 4-year-old, too. She is a human.”
Giron also has 20-year-old son who went to Buena Vista Horace Mann. What is he doing now? “Adulting.”
Update (3:23 p.m.)
Before BVHM opened for student pick-up at 2:30 p.m., parents and nannies already formed a queue outside the gates. Meanwhile, a faculty member was working through the crowd to distribute hot-pink leaflets for an after-school program.
Once the school’s gates opened, parents flooded into the courtyard, emerging minutes later with young kids attached to their hips. Many of the young ‘uns steered their parents to the food carts parked along the curbs out front selling takis, cooled watermelon, pork chips, and other snacks.
Sachin, a first grader, asked the vendor for Cheetos before clocking his head toward his father who, after a beat, handed the worker a couple of singles.
The first day of school was “was okay,” according to Sachin, but he couldn’t wait to relax at home.
There was a similar scene at Moscone Elementary. As parents walked out with their kids in tow, many pointed to the ice-cream man walking around the corner. “I want that one,” a little girl said, pointing to a Tweety bird ice cream treat on the cart.
It was a sweet way to end the first day back to school.