First published in the Aug. 20 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
The atmosphere in Grandview, which is part of Glendale, was a bit more kinetic than usual Wednesday morning, as eager and excited children weaved their way through the neighborhood grid with their possibly more excited parents to kick off their first day of the school year.
As the children amassed in the playground and lined up according to class at Jefferson Elementary School, their families gave assuring hugs, snapped keepsake photos and gazed with pride when their students started to march inside for first bell.
This scene almost certainly played out at the 20-some other elementary schools in the Glendale Unified School District, while the more seasoned middle and high school students often took celebrations and reunions into their own hands.
Summer vacation is over, and the 2022-23 school year has begun.
“The first day of school is as exciting for me as it is for every kiddo who steps onto campus,” said Superintendent Vivian Ekchian, who visited both Jefferson Elementary and Glendale High School on Wednesday morning with a cadre of public officials and media in tow.
Ekchian admitted that the occasion hadn’t lost its luster even with this being effectively the district’s fifth “back to school” event in two years — including when the remote 2020-21 year kicked off with so-called learning pods on campus, later that year when first elementary students and later secondary students returned to classrooms for hybrid instruction and then the beginning of the previous school year.
Each time, the red carpet was rolled out, balloons adorned the gates and district employees did their best to make students feel at home. This, the superintendent contended, was a vital tone-setter for the rest of the academic year.
“How you set the stage is how the year goes,” Ekchian said.
Many children at Jefferson — and other schools — certainly got that memo on Wednesday, as they carried bouquets of flowers and potted plants along with their backpacks, gifts for their new teachers.
Nayiri Nahabedian, president of the GUSD Board of Education, noted that students all over have commonly brought gifts for their teachers at the start of school and speculated that the propensity toward flowers might have an Armenian link.
“Parents in Armenia will do it,” she said. “There’s a tradition of honor for teachers, and it’s a gesture of gratitude for those teachers. I think it does contribute to a teacher feeling cared for and feeling valued. And it brightens up their day.”
This school year marks the first in a tiered plan to establish universal transitional kindergarten at each elementary school in the district. Some schools — including Jefferson, which has historically had strong TK enrollment — have already boasted such programs, while others are adding it for the first time. Some schools that already had TK have had to add additional classes for it.
Although formal enrollment figures are taken at the beginning of October, the first day indicated that approximately an additional 100 students are beginning TK this year. Of some pleasant surprise for GUSD, first-day attendance numbers indicated that elementary and secondary enrollment is up from the prior year, even factoring out the TK expansion.
Ekchian said the district’s theme for the year was to be “warm demanders” for students, an effort that plays into GUSD’s continuing efforts to close learning gaps, scaffold learning and redirect resources where possible to achieve the best outcomes.
“We want to create the most conducive learning environments by building on their strengths, embracing their talents, taking care of social-emotional needs and having high expectations for academic achievement,” she said.