With all 550 Eisenhower Elementary School students back on campus full-time, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond decided to visit the school on Thursday, May 27.
Eisenhower is the first campus in the Garden Grove Unified School District to return 100% of its students to classrooms five days a week. The district has gradually moved its 67 campuses back to in-person learning since Orange County exited the purple tier and announced that all campuses will be full-time in-person next year.
“As all California schools design their own recovery and accelerated learning plans for this summer and fall, I encourage them to explore strategies like those modeled here at Eisenhower,” Thurman said.
“Students do best when connected with teachers, their staff and their peers,” he said. “We know that many of our students have experienced mental health issues because they were disconnected and had learning gaps.”
During her visit, Thurman met students working in an outdoor vegetable garden, then visited a sixth-grade classroom where teacher Jennifer Zarkades was leading her students through a collaborative writing lesson.
Thurman also became interested in a group of sophomores who were learning literacy skills with instructor Roben Alarcón.
Every student was masked and, with the exception of the outdoor garden, sat at desks enclosed on three sides by plexiglass.
The superintendent will continue to visit schools across the state to encourage safety measures such as masking, social distancing and screening, officials said.
Thurman will also encourage students of legal age to get vaccinated.
“We want to raise awareness that with vaccines it’s a game-changer to go back to school and back to work,” he said.
After in-person instruction halted in March 2020, the district began reopening campuses in October for in-person instruction until Orange County’s return to the purple tier halts the phased transition.
When the coronavirus spiked again in December, many county districts closed campuses again. Starting in February, Eisenhower and other schools in the district reopened to some in-person classes.
In March, when the California Department of Public Health adopted the CDC’s recommendation to reduce social distancing guidelines from six feet to three feet, Eisenhower administrators invited the entire student body to return for five days per week.
“When they relaxed the guidelines from six feet to three, that’s when we knew we could do it because we could accommodate everyone in the classroom,” the principal said. Eisenhower, Beth Cusimano, adding that if the school with its diverse demographics could be successful, “all schools can open.
The school contacted parents about reopening plans and offered campus tours and conducted home visits, officials said.
“I’m proud of the situation here at Eisenhower,” Thurman said. “We want to shine a light on our students and families across the state, now is the time for us to work on teaching in person and it can be done safely if we follow the same protocols you see here today.”