Excitement and safety marked the first day back to campus Tuesday as thousands of EPISD students and staff navigated the phased-in return of in-person instruction after 10 months of virtual learning amid the pandemic.
EPISD teachers and staff returned Thursday in preparation for today, which marks the move into the Orange Zone in the Region 19 School Safe Zones. Elementary school students who wished to attend on-campus returned to their building while a more limited number of middle and high school students were offered the chance to come back. Priority populations returned within safe capacities.
“We couldn’t be more excited to have the students back on campus face-to-face,” said Jason Yturralde, principal of Henderson Middle School. “It’s great to see their eyes light up just coming back up – seeing their friends and the brand-new building.”
The Bond 2016 campus, which will eventually combine Henderson Middle and Clardy Elementary schools, opened to a new generation of students who took their first steps into the new campus today. Some had seen the campus only through virtual open houses leading up to the excitement of opening day.
“I really wanted to come here,” said sixth grader Danny Anguiano III. “I’ve never been here before. So far I feel very positive but not so excited about COVID.”
Tuesday’s return to campus marked a historic day throughout EPISD as several other Bond 2016 schools and new buildings officially opened for staff and students. A limited number of students had returned earlier in the school year to pods, but teachers remained at home continuing instruction online.
“Ten months ago, when we left, the kids were in the old buildings that were knocked down,” said principal Chris Smith, inside the new Burges High School. “So, every building we’re going into today is brand new for our scholars and teachers.”
Smith and staff greeted a limited number of students as they entered, helping some to find their way in the new state-of-the-art campus.
“The morning started off great. Our scholars and students are excited to be back – of course everyone is a little nervous to come back after being shut down for 10 months,” he said. “We are taking all the same precautions as all the other schools and encouraging staff if they see something that needs to change, let us know. This is the first time we’ve been in a pandemic.
The impressive new classrooms and wings made the trip to campus even more exciting for those Mustangs selecting on-campus learning. Meanwhile some teachers navigated instruction between live and on-line on large monitors to engage both groups.
“It’s beautiful,” freshman Ismael Beltran said, waiting in one of the open spaces for the school day to begin. “This high school will be known for this building and it will help everyone in the future.”
Tuesdays return to campus comes in preparation for Feb. 1, when daily on-campus instruction will be provided to all students who wish to return to campus. Priority populations also will return within safety capacities. Students can still select to continue remote learning.
“I’m going to stay online because the cases can go up,” said Burges sophomore Leslie Mojica. “I’m still coming to basketball because we are taking precautions to stay safe. I’ll probably come back when I’m a junior and everything slows down and there aren’t as many cases.”
Her teammate, Lila Ashida, looked forward to returning to campus: “I’m a little nervous to get back into the groove but I’m excited. I’m more of a hands-on learner, so being with the teacher is more beneficial to me.”
Haley Clary is glad to return to campus to finish out her senior year. The Burges Early College High School student and recent EPCC grad has a message for her classmates: “I hope everyone stays safe. Wear your mask, please, and keep your distance.”
Across town at Lincoln Middle School, teachers and students ventured into the buildings that will eventually become the new Don Haskins Prek-8 in consolidation with Bond and Roberts elementary schools.
“It’s really beautiful and very modern. I love it,” said sixth grader Olivia Skertchly. “I was really excited that I get to see kids in person and get to make more friends I think it would be easier to see my teachers in person and ask them questions.”
Math teacher Wendell Molix also looked forward to seeing students live in his new classroom.
“Being around kids, teaching them and watching them learn and grow is why I became a teacher,” Molix said. “It wasn’t enough at home. I missed building teacher and student relationships that helped the kids grow and understand they came be successful when we’re here to back them.”
Molix stressed that everyone just needs to heed the safety precaution during this next phase.
“We just have to do the right thing. Stay safe. Stay six feet apart. Wash our hands. And we should all be fine.”
For more photos of EPISD’s Return to Campus Instruction, check out our Photo Gallery here.