The first day of year-round school got underway in Hayward Thursday, but instead of welcome assemblies and hallways of screaming kids in new clothes, parents and students never left the car.
With the schooling for now remaining virtual, Hayward Unified held a welcome-back drive-through at its four year-round schools. At Park Elementary School, parents pulled their cars up to tables where masked staff handed out school supplies, information and laptops. Students met their teachers through the car window.
"I feel like I have lost something," said kindergarten teacher Argelia Ramos as she watched one of her students shuttled away. "I cannot see or hug the kids. That's very hard for me."
The district said the event was an attempt to create a connection between the students and the school — albeit one that will rely on distance learning.
"I think everyone loses out when you don't get to have that really personal connection," said school district spokeswoman Dionicia Ramos. "But our main focus has to be on the health and safety of our students and our staff."
School principal Pia Machiavello said it was strange not to see students and teachers showing up in their first-day-of-school finery — and hard to see hallways and classrooms empty and silent.
"This is a moment where we're being part of history," Machiavello said. "What's happening right now is unprecedented."
Fourth-grader Georgeana Sierra accompanied her mom and younger sister to the event to pick up supplies. She noted a much different looking school than the one she left in March when the pandemic took hold.
"I'm feeling a little bit uncomfortable," she said, looking around the empty campus. "But it's good to be safe and to keep all my friends safe."
One teacher sewed handmade bags to give to each of her students. Another handed out hula hoops.
Rohullah Alemi drove his wife and kids through the parking lot, picking up a bag of supplies for his son who is starting kindergarten. Despite the unusual scenario, he called the first day of school a "great day." He said he had to explain to his son why they weren't getting out of the car.
"He was telling me that he wanted to run around," Alemi said through the driver window. "I said, 'Oh, man, you can't.' But really we miss that."
For the time being, students will attend daily Zoom classes — with parents meeting up with teachers in one-on-one virtual sessions and meetings.
At Park School, which bills itself as the nation's oldest year-round school, Machiavello described it as a historic place going through historic times.
"How we respond as humanity to this challenge is what's going to define us," Machiavello said.