What’s on Modesto middle schoolers’ minds as new year gets under way

Learning to unlock a locker is tricky. And changing clothes for P.E. in front of classmates may feel strange at first.

Those were among the words of wisdom Hanshaw Middle School eighth-grader Emily Holbrook shared with her little brother, Matthew, who started seventh grade there Monday. It was the first day of the academic year for all grade levels across the Modesto City Schools district. Other area districts also started Monday or will start later this week; Oakdale was ahead of the game and started last week.

Matthew struggled to think of anything in particular he was excited or anxious about as he moved from elementary to middle school, but finally said he was a little nervous about “weird people.”

While most other seventh-graders asked at Hanshaw didn’t word it quite that way, several said that having new classmates — Hanshaw draws from Bret Harte, Fairview, Shackelford, Robertson Road and Tuolumne elementary schools — and new teachers was at the front of their minds.

Sitting with some other boys during a welcome-back hour before classes began, Noah Marquez said he was looking forward to “meeting new people and learning new things.” He admitted a bit of worry, though, about having several teachers throughout the day and “how other people will treat me.”

Having school sports is something that excited some incoming students. Friends Leah Nunez and Lizbeth Valencia both said they want to play volleyball for Hanshaw.

For Xzavier Pelayo, succeeding in playing basketball as a Hanshaw Titan means succeeding in class. He’s shooting to earn straight A’s — something he didn’t achieve in elementary school but believes he can if he tries hard. After all, his best grades so far were in sixth grade, he said.

Another eighth-grader with advice to offer younger kids was Ximena Villasenor. She said they shouldn’t worry about the size of the campus, remembering their schedules, getting from class to class in time, and the like. They’ll adapt quickly, she predicted. “I give it a week.”

What the seventh-graders should look forward to, she said, is working hard but having fun and making friends.

Enrique Leon said he’s ready for the work. It will be tough, he said, but he really wants to improve his English, especially in terms of strengthening his vocabulary so he can be more descriptive.

Having students with aspirations is a great part of what keeps Hanshaw principal Lori Jonas excited to be an educator. The kids are “full of energy and have goals and are ready to go after them if they have that support” of great teachers, she said.

“Watching them grow over two years is an honor and a privilege,” Jonas said of the students. “Junior high is a crazy age, but we have the best staff to be able to handle it in a really great way.”

Hanshaw students also arrived Monday to a campus improved with a fresh coat on every painted exterior surface, new carpeting in classroom areas and 70-inch TVs in classrooms to support instruction, Jonas said.

The campus on Las Vegas Street in south Modesto, right next door to The Salvation Army Red Shield Community Center, is among 26 sites in Modesto City Schools’ elementary district (everything but high schools) to benefit from summer improvements.

In November, voters within the district boundaries passed two bond measures, D and E, that provide $131 million to repair and upgrade aging elementary and junior high school education facilities.