Mental health, personal, later start times – that’s what Pacific Beach and other San Diego schools are facing this year

The new school year started on Monday for the approximately 95,000 students in the San Diego Unified School District as schools are still grappling with the problems posed by the pandemic, from their own struggles to hire enough staff to students’ struggles with their mental health. .

It’s the second school year of full-time in-person learning after closures and now, too, the strict pandemic rules of the past two years, like the statewide school mask mandate and quarantine requirements for COVID-19 exposure. , are part of the past.

But the many challenges exacerbated by the pandemic are far from gone.

Schools are still working to help students recover from the academic and emotional toll of closures and other trauma. At the same time, districts like San Diego Unified have seen not only a decline in enrollment, but also greater student absenteeism.

Lamont Jackson, Superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, speaks on the first day of school.

(Ana Ramirez / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

San Diego Unified Superintendent Lamont Jackson said the district’s top priorities this year will be improving students’ mental health, expanding transitional preschool, extending student learning time via extracurriculars, and summer school, the refinement of standards-based learning and the increase of staffing levels and professional development.

“The feelings of the educators are simply very excited. It’s certainly a different year than we’ve been through the past two years, ”Jackson said.

Some other new developments this year: A brand new school in Mission Valley, Nipaquay Elementary, opened its doors to students up to second grade.

And state-wide public school students now receive two free meals a day, regardless of family income, thanks to a new state law. Previously, the state only granted free meals to students from low-income families.

Here are some other big problems San Diego Unified and county-wide schools are facing this year.

Mental health

San Diego Unified’s biggest priority this year will be addressing student mental health, Jackson said.

Last year, about 44 percent of high school students nationwide reported in a survey that they consistently felt sad or hopeless, up from 37 percent in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

San Diego Unified claims it has a $ 30 million three-year plan to expand mental health services for students. There is now a mental health doctor in every middle and high school, and schools get a counselor more days a week than ever before, Jackson said.

“We all have our needs socially, emotionally, physically and mentally, and we need to be able to have the ability to really work with children to meet their needs at that level from a health and safety perspective,” Jackson said.

Personal

Staffing has always been a challenge for public schools, but schools struggled to find enough staff last school year, when a winter wave of COVID caused a high number of staff absences in a market of the competitive work.

San Diego Unified officials said they cannot provide details on how short staff are for this new school year until a few weeks from now, once they have a better idea of ​​exact enrollment numbers.

The district said it added dozens of new elementary teaching positions and upgraded its counselors staff last school year. But it struggled to hire enough nurses and special education teachers and, in June, began offering $ 10,000 hiring incentives to recruit them.

San Diego Unified is also working to “grow its own” educators by recruiting high school students and special education aides to become teachers, Jackson said.

Two little girls, one with a pink mask that falls under her nose, sit across from each other at a table reading picture books.

Emma Bustos-Cortez, 4, left, and Alia Davenport, 5, read on their first day of school at the Logan Memorial Education Campus.

(Ana Ramirez / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Subsequent start times

This school year is the first to start under California’s new late start time law, which requires middle school to start no earlier than 8:00 am and high school no earlier than 8:30 am

The law, which San Diego Unified had pushed for, was intended to improve the health of teenage students by giving them more time to sleep.

But it also introduced some logistical challenges: bus transportation was curtailed, after-school activities were turned down, and some parents taking their kids to school may have to adapt commuters as they juggle work schedules.

San Diego Unified High Schools have already moved up to the next few hours last school year; this year even middle schools have to start later.

At Wangenheim Middle School in Mira Mesa, some parents expressed relief for the next start, now at 8:00 am instead of 7:30 am.

“Later is better, because it was too early that they had to get up,” said Mai Nguyen, whose son is in seventh grade at Wangenheim.

Transitional kindergarten

Transitional Kindergarten, the optional level for 4-year-olds that precedes Kindergarten, is now offered at every San Diego Unified Elementary; last year it was only offered to a few dozen.

San Diego Unified is gradually expanding its transition preschool program in advance of a state law that will require all school districts to offer it to all 4-year-olds by 2025.

That law has been acclaimed by educators who say it will provide invaluable early childhood experience for children and has the added benefit of helping districts mitigate declines in enrollment by adding students to a new school level.

But the law has also been criticized for failing to incorporate childcare providers, who fear losing many 4-year-olds in public schools. Many suppliers depend on those children to stay financially afloat.

San Diego Unified is serving approximately 4,500 transition kindergarten students in 185 classrooms this year, up from 70 classrooms last year. About 200 students are on a waiting list for a place, district officials said.

Three little girls wearing braids and school uniforms lie on a colorful rug reading books in a classroom

Fe Stamper, 4, left, Lucia Guzman, 5, and Irys Reyes, 4, read during their first day of school at the Logan Memorial Education Campus.

(Ana Ramirez / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Relaxed measures against COVID-19

This is the first school year since the inception of COVID-19 that San Diego Unified began without a district-level masking mandate. The district has been one of the last in the region to reduce COVID-19 mitigation measures as public alarm over the coronavirus subsided.

The possibility still exists that individual San Diego unified schools could request masks if a school experiences at least three COVID-19 outbreaks within two weeks and more than 5% of students and staff are infected.

District leaders can also report a district-level warrant depending on how many schools have masked rules activated, how many students are absent, and what COVID-19 researchers say.

Some parents, like Nguyen, have expressed concern about the lack of requirements for the mask. “It’s a concern, but my son always wears a mask and never takes off a mask, that’s why I feel comfortable,” she said.

Others, like Stephanie Sy, Mira Mesa High’s mother, welcomed the end of the masks mandates and another year of full in-person learning. She said the masks hindered learning for her sophomore daughter, who is in special education, limiting her ability to interact in person and see the faces of teachers.

“We are really happy now that he can go back to school instead of Zoom home,” Sy said.

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