A Pandemic First Day of School in California

The first day of school is stressful under the best of circumstances: picking the right outfit, navigating hallways and making new friends.

And that’s when there isn’t a pandemic.

Across California, millions of children have returned to classrooms, including more than 600,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District who started classes on Monday.

The first day, for many the first time back in a classroom since March 2020, was both monumental and oh-so ordinary. Yes, there were masks and staggered lunches, but also reunions among buddies, tearful goodbyes with parents and confusing math problems.

Today, we’re sharing first-day-of-school images from across the state as well as some emails you sent me about how the big day went for you and your kids.

Jeremy Edberg, parent to a 6-year-old in Cupertino

“I couldn’t be more excited about the first day of school! She is my oldest, but I’ve been thinking about walking my child to school since we bought our house 13 years ago. I teared up a little as she went inside (no parents allowed of course!) because I was excited that she finally gets to go to school on campus.”

Kristie Tappan, parent to a 6-year-old

“She complained that there are a lot of rules in first grade. You might think that she was frustrated about all of the Covid rules, but no. The problem is that you have to take turns reading on the bean bag chair.”

Cara Meredith, parent to a third-grade son in Oakland who isn’t all that interested in learning

“For a writing assignment last week, he answered the following:

What do you like best about being back in school? Recess.
What’s your favorite subject in school? Recess.
How can I [his teacher] help you achieve your goals this year? Give me more recesses.
What’s one goal you have for yourself in the third grade? Earn more recesses.

At first, I tried to help him think in more academic terms, but … our children have been through the wringer over the last 16 months: the least I can do is help him earn more recesses.”

Ashley Ko, a high school senior in Saratoga who sent in this poem about her first day back:

“I woke up 30 minutes earlier,
My eyes groggier than ZOOM eyes.
than that damning beeping machinery
18 months staring endlessly into my laptop
The great big hole of futuristic daydreams
Or hope, I guess.
Grabbed my backpack (what?!) my lunch, and
A mask. (yes, please wear your mask, though I am
fully vaccinated, please please wear it please)

Walked into school, 9-12 swarming like bees
(Luckily, I did not get a heart attack)
I was pretty close to the parking lot, had many thoughts
Of turning back until …
“ASHLEY I HAVEN’T SEEN YOU SO LONG!”
(Do I hug? Uhh, do I awkwardly stand 6 ft away?)

Sitting in AP Language & Composition, forgetting
that I walk into a classroom.
Not a ZOOM link.
30 minutes into class.
(I miss my cat.)
40 minutes into class.
(I miss going to the bathroom
Without an e-pass.)
50 minutes into class.
(I miss my snack pantry,
quite desperately)
60 minutes into class.
(I need to switch my pants
Into sweatpants, RIGHT NOW)
70 minutes into class
(I can not wait to go home.)

But,
I still have 2 more classes to go.”

Julie Thompson, mother of 5-year-old twins in Oakland

“We showed up that first day and I’m glad we did. I’m always amazed at how they blossom when they’re back in school. I know other families made other decisions and none of the options are great. We’re all doing our best.”

Michele Garzon, parent to a fifth-grade son in Woodland Hills

“When I picked him up from school he seemed really happy but said it was weird, describing different parts of the day to my teenage daughter and me on our walk home. They ate outside and were able to play kickball (masks on), which was the highlight of his day.”

Kathy Kelley, parent to high school senior James

“He likes his English class and is interested in two of the novels, ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’

James: ‘I probably won’t get to read “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”’
Me: ‘Why?’
James: ‘School will probably get shut down … well at least we’ll have “Catcher in the Rye.”’

Maybe Holden Caulfield is the right voice for this trying time?”

Jesus Gonzales, high school statistics teacher

“By the end of the day, having students in my class, all masked correctly, talking to each other and discussing a statistics problem; eating lunch with my fellow teachers; hearing announcements over the intercom — I felt something that I have been missing this last year and a half: hope as well as an inner sadness for lost time.”

Julie McPherson, who reconnected with another parent while dropping off her third grader

“A dad found me this morning, reminding me that the last time we spoke, we were speculating about the school’s closing. That was early in March 2020, days before the Bay Area lockdown. … Seeing him again made me want to weep — I so missed talking to him every morning! I would have hugged him if we were still doing that kind of thing. It is remarkable how much the time passing is both elongated and compressed.”

Karen Liu, mother to three young kids

“We dropped off our kids for the first day of school today and it was so bittersweet! This is the only year they will all be at the same school … I’m not feeling worried about Covid since the school is taking precautions. More worried about what will happen if our little guy needs to poop …”

Jenny Wong, parent to a 2-year-old in preschool in L.A.

“As I dropped her off, I said, ‘Have fun with your new friends, I love you. See you later,’ my throat was swelling up and I walked the long way home to look at photos of her … My foremost feeling is just pure happiness knowing she has her own space to make friends and to play, play, play. Sad, but in a good way.”

“I can look right at the sun,” said Anthony Wexler, director of the Air Quality Research Center at the University of California, Davis, “and it doesn’t bother me at all.”


In her latest newsletter, the California restaurant critic Tejal Rao talks up an herb-packed aioli luscious enough to be the centerpiece of a proper feast.


My colleagues at T Magazine recommend a stay at Cuyama Buckhorn, a resort near salt flats and wildflower fields in Santa Barbara County’s remote high desert, three hours northeast of Los Angeles.


Whew, my heart.

The annual three-legged dog picnic returned to San Francisco’s Duboce Park this weekend. The images SFist posted are the cutest things I’ve seen in a long time. Enjoy.


Thanks for reading. Have a lovely weekend. I’ll be back Monday. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Make an unsound decision? (4 letters).

Jeremiah M. Bogert, Jr., Shelby Knowles, Miles McKinley and Steven Moity contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

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