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All Students Return to Schools for First Day

MVHS Orientation

Across the Mount Vernon City School District, students reported for the first day of the 2021-22 school year today, Thursday, September 9, with adjusted COVID regulations – requiring 3 feet of distance rather than 6, for instance – making it possible to hold in-person school for the entire enrollment of 7,500.

Students were excited to fully engage in lessons as well as eat lunch with schoolmates and friends.

“If you’re on the computer, you can’t have your own conversations with your friends unless you have their number,” said Pennington sixth-grade student Amiya Evans.

Students behind Covid shields

“I focus a little better than on Zoom,” said Pennington fourth-grade student Gabrielle Jarrett.

Faculty noticed their charges were a little taller than when they saw them last – and many were more eager to talk. Pennington School sixth-grade teacher Janice Pollard and her students were getting to know each other with a free-flowing conversation about favorite sports teams, pet dogs and any other topic that popped up.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Pollard said. “I like how open the students are. It’s been wonderful.”

At The Mount Vernon High School, the first day of the school year was also the first day for new Principal Dr. Matthew Gonzales, who introduced students to the school’s new division format. Each of the 1,150 students is assigned to one of three divisions: A-Maya Angelou, B-Benjamin Banneker and C-Martin Luther King, Jr.

That will allow the administration and faculty to offer students more individual attention to accomplish the school’s goals.

“We want to inspire you,” Dr. Gonzales told the freshmen in the first of three orientations today. “We want to you to feel joyful to come to school, and joyful to learn.”

They want to nurture students into compassionate people who are principled and who know how to use the knowledge they gain to shape the life they want.

“To do what you want means that you will use your knowledge to make your life better and to fulfill that which you want to do, whether that’s repairing cars, being a surgeon or becoming the president of the United States,” Dr. Gonzales said. “Because all those things are in your capacity. We want to empower you. We want you to be an agent of change.”

The welcoming feeling was universal across the district.

At the Mount Vernon STEAM Academy, ninth-grade students were welcomed into the auditorium for an orientation, picked up their schedules if they hadn’t accessed them online, and spent 15 minutes in each of the nine periods to meet their teachers. At the end of the day, they received their laptops to use for the rest of the year.

STEAM students schedules

Valeria Aguilera, who attended Hamilton School last year, chose the STEAM Academy as her high school because of the programs the school offers. “I’m also looking forward to playing soccer,” she said.

“We are so happy that we can welcome our students in person,” said Ms. Lillian Serret-Morales, who is the STEAM Academy’s acting principal until new principal Ms. Sharon Spencer begins later this month. She said the school has been preparing classrooms by installing desk shields and the staff has received all COVID protocols and are emphasizing mask wearing and washing hands. “My faculty is ready to go!”

The school hosted an 11th grade orientation in the afternoon, and on Friday, the school will host a 10th grade orientation in the morning and a 12th grade orientation in the afternoon. The regular school schedule commences on Monday.

Cecil H. Parker School Principal Jacqueline Green said the first day went smoothly because she had communicated to parents in advance, spelling out the plan for using several entranceways to help maintain social distance.

Camryn Chisolm, a fourth-grade student at Rebecca Turner Elementary School, had been learning remotely since the pandemic hit in March 2020. She said she is really eager to be back in school this year. She is looking forward to having her best friend in her class. Even though they call and text and sometimes visit in person, being in school together will be different.

“I’m just looking forward to having a fun school year where everything goes great, and I make some new friends,” she said.

“We are excited to have all of our students back,” Rebecca Turner Principal Jamal Doggett said. “We are looking forward to transitioning back to a normal school setting.”

He said the school’s theme this year is “Back to Basics,” which means, “We will transition into more in-person learning, more small group instruction, more energizing lessons, more physical activities during lunch, and more control over our learning environment,” he said. “Our students are excited. You could see it on their faces this morning and we are looking forward to a positive school year.”

Rebecca Turner students

Abraham Diallo, a classmate of Camryn, is looking forward to learning about math and to delivering more presentations to his teachers and fellow students, like the presentation he did last year on a new app.

“I’m excited about learning new things and getting new friends,” he said.

And if the new normal takes some getting used to, the faculty and administrators are ready to meet the challenge.

“We have to create a bright light in these challenging times,” said Mount Vernon High School Interim Assistant Principal Sonya Wingate, head of the Martin Luther King Jr. Division. “This year is going to be very empowering. Our students are going to feel much more involved in the educational process.”