Elementary schools across Modesto took a page from higher grade levels this year, bringing families to campuses early to get information, sign forms and find classrooms. The school year kicks off Monday for Modesto City Schools; Sylvan Union School District in north Modesto; Empire Union School District; Patterson Joint Unified School District; and Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District.
Modesto City Schools held its first elementary roundups Friday; Enslen was the exception, holding its on Thursday. The packed Fairview campus spread its roundup over both days.
“It’s primarily to greet our families,” said Franklin Principal Carol Brooks, taking a moment from answering questions at the emergency information card station. “I think seeing them before Monday takes the edge off the anxiety for them,” she said.
Except for kindergarten orientation, teachers were not meeting and greeting Friday. “That’s by design,” Brooks said. Modesto teachers spent much of the week in training for the Common Core State Standards, leaving Friday the day for instructors to finish getting their classrooms shipshape.
Franklin will welcome 900-plus students Monday, including 85 to 100 new families, Brooks estimated. Some still were registering this week. Letters sent home, school signs and a robocall brought the vast majority to school Friday, waiting patiently in lines as music played on a loudspeaker.
“We wanted a welcoming, warm, rah-rah kind of atmosphere,” Brooks said. The school provided snacks and water and door prizes of books and Franklin pens, mugs and squishy balls. The extra touches were possible thanks to higher state funding this year and spending targeted to help families.
Roundup included five stations, each with a stamp for parent “passports.” It took a full passport to find out the teacher and room each child will report to Monday. All the stations were for forms and information schools traditionally sent home the first day, then waited for to trickle back in with students.
The new system will put emergency information in files starting day one and could improve care for kids with medical conditions, but it got mixed reviews from parents standing in slow-moving lines as temperatures climbed.
“I like it. It’s more organized and it’s faster. They send the papers home, but a lot don’t send them back,” said Maira Medina as she left the last station with her two sons.
For mom Jemela Hayes, with three children in three schools, it was a long morning. “I think this prolonged it. It was faster the other way,” she said.
“It’s good. You get a lot of stuff done, but it’s time-consuming,” said Maria Urbina, standing with her three children.
Information on Healthy Start Program family services, a chance to join the Parent-Teacher Club or buy Franklin T-shirts, and sign-ups for the after-school program were the first three stations.
Fourth was filling out applications for free or reduced-price lunches, which 98 percent of Franklin students qualified for last year. The remaining 2 percent may have had higher incomes, or may simply have not filled out the forms. Because the state’s new funding model gives extra money to help poor students, filling out those forms has a higher priority this year.
The final station before queuing up for teacher assignments was for emergency information cards, where school nurse Laurie Carvalho talked to parents about any medications their children use – a major plus of the roundups, she said.
“I’m talking to parents directly,” Carvalho said while handing out forms for doctor approval of medications at school. “We’re trying to be very proactive this year,” she said, noting significant numbers of Modesto students have asthma.
“We had two or three kids taken to the hospital by ambulance last year. If we had an inhaler at school (for that student), we could probably have prevented that asthma attack,” Carvalho said.