Walnut, CA—After more than a year of pandemic shutdowns, over 13,400 Walnut Valley USD students bid farewell to virtual learning with the full-time return to classes on August 9.
“It’s been 514 days since we’ve last been on campus,” said Walnut High School senior ASB President Chloe Young, where teens were greeted with cheering staff, pep squads, and band performances.
“Since we don’t know what tomorrow has in store for us, let’s make every second count,” she added.
At all 15 campuses, educators and students alike were eager to make friendly (masked) face-to-face connections.
“I’ve missed this and love having the kids back!” exclaimed transitional kindergarten teacher Christa Richard amid giggling and jumping youngsters playing parachute games at Castle Rock Elementary.
“It’s only the first week and they are so excited to come to school every day!” she added.
“Being back to in-person teaching is quite an adjustment!” shared Sylvia Chen, a fourth grade Dual Language Immersion teacher at Walnut Elementary.
“There have been many moments of ‘Oh, that’s right, I did that two years ago!’”
Chen, the 2021 WVUSD Teacher of the Year, decided to document the “unique back-to-school experience” with a self-portrait activity featuring face masks.
On tri-folded papers, students drew themselves with a separate face mask that revealed their unmasked faces and selected character traits written in Mandarin.
“We are so much more than what is presented on the outside and this project helps us get to know each person behind the mask a little more!” Chen said.
One student, Lucas Tien shared that he wrote “tall, smart, genuine, and kind” to describe himself, while another classmate, Clair Chen, chose “kind, calm, focused, confident, smart, and likes to read.”
Students have been poised for the long-awaited opportunity to reunite with schoolmates.
“Seeing my friends and talking to people has been the best!” said eighth grader Dylan Rosen, 13, from South Pointe Middle School.
“At the start (of COVID-19 quarantine), I thought being alone was kind of nice, but then realized I need other people,” he commented.
“I don’t know how I made it through, but playing video games, especially League of Legends, really helped.”
“I'm looking forward to seeing old friends and helping students acclimate to the school environment,” shared Walnut High ASB member senior Ian Neeley, who also chimed in on the mandatory face mask requirement.
“I wish I didn't have to wear a mask, but it is for the greater good!” he added.
Senior Jensine Yu said she was looking forward to seeing everyone in person and having connections with people again.
“I'm also excited about rallies and dances we are having this year!”
“It’s just great to be back!” said Diamond Bar High School math teacher Shari De Cambra who is grateful for face-to-face interactions and getting to know students on a more personal level.
“Today I saw football players wearing their jerseys, cheerleaders wearing uniforms, and the kids are just happy to see their friends and make new ones.”
Collegewood Elementary teachers commemorated back-to-school in a new two-story, 14-classroom building.
“Our students and staff are beyond excited to be back in person, and then to have this beautiful new building makes us so happy,” said second grade teacher Diane Zell.
Zell’s classroom encourages turning adversity into advantage with cheery “Making Lemonade Out of Lemons” themed artwork and decorations.
Catchy phrases like “Be Zesty” are displayed and a calming corner features a lemonade stand where kids can “Refresh.”
“We had no choice but to make the best out of a difficult situation because all of our kids deserved that,” the 38-year veteran Collegewood educator said.
Yellow school busses are also back in action picking up and delivering children to the fully reopened Diamond Bar and Walnut campuses.
“The kids are so happy to be back on board and I’m happy too!” said longtime driver Ena Mendez.
Over 120 new employees around the District were hired for the 2021-2022 school year, including 67 new educators.
First grade teacher Stephanie Jaramillio described her first day on the job as “beyond amazing” and her most memorable moment was playing the Pie Face game with students.
“My kids can’t stop talking about how fun it was to get their teacher messy!” she shared.
Other schools ushered in students with red carpet photo opportunities, banners and balloon arches, pompoms, and cow bells.
Suzanne Middle School art teacher Jonathan St. Amant even dusted off his accordion for the celebration.
"We wanted to show our students and families that we are excited to see them in person again, and I thought, 'What better way to show that than with some catchy tunes from my toy accordion?’'’ he said.
Walnut Valley USD continues to implement and sustain COVID-19 safety protocols under the direction of state and county public health including indoor mandatory face masks, improved filtration systems, health screening, voluntary COVID testing for students and staff, and COVID vaccination clinics.
“Our highest priority continues to be the health, safety, and well-being of students and staff,” commented Superintendent Dr. Robert Taylor who visited all 15 campuses on August 9.
“If you’re feeling a little nervous or scared, I want you to know there are a lot of people here to help you,” said Principal Dr. Mary Wendland during the schoolwide announcement.
The opening day excitement brought mixed emotions with concerns amid the surging Delta variant.
“We’re nervous about the uncertainties and just making sure our students know what’s expected of them,” said one Collegewood Elementary parent at morning drop-off.
“My son is a sophomore at Walnut High and didn’t come back in the spring – and I told him, ‘Don’t forget to wear your mask!’” parent Loralyn Isomura shared.
“Having the kids back in the classroom had me misty eyed on Monday,” reported orchestra teacher Taylor Barr from Chaparral Middle School.
“We have all been worried about what it will be like coming back, but so far the kids are more excited to be here than I think they have ever been… and so am I!”
“I love teaching in person!
One South Pointe student summed up his feelings about the pandemic after missing the end of sixth grade and all of seventh grade due to the school closure.
“I would like to see COVID cancelled!” stated eighth grader Miles Lin.
First Day of School! Collegewood Elementary students return to school on August 9.
Walnut Elementary 4th grade DLI teacher Sylvia Chen leads back-to-school activity.
Full Campuses, Full Hearts! Walnut High School opens on August 9.
Watch Us Grow! Castle Rock Elementary kindergarten teacher Cindy Feng documents the first day of school with digital photographs.
Walnut Elementary 4th grade DLI activities commemorate unique back-to-school experience.
Reconnect, Restore, Reimagine! Supt. Dr. Robert Taylor visits all 15 WVUSD campuses on Aug. 9. Shown at Vejar Elementary.
Welcome Aboard! School begins in new 21st century classrooms at Collegewood Elementary.
First Day! Students return to campus at South Pointe Middle School.
Vejar Elementary fifth grade teacher Lauren Gullotti with students on Aug. 9.
Parachute Fun! Castle Rock transitional kindergarten teacher and students celebrate first day of school.
First Day, First Grade! New teacher Stephanie Jaramillio reports her first day was “beyond amazing!”