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By Breeana Greenberg

The start of the 2022-23 school year on Tuesday, Aug. 16, marked a hopeful return to normalcy for many families and teachers at RH Dana Elementary School. Students entering the campus were welcomed with a sign saying “Bienvenidos Whales,” as well as music and bubbles.

As families gathered at RH Dana for the first day of the school’s morning assembly, parents and teachers alike voiced their excitement for the coming school year and anticipated growth for elementary students.

“I think this school is growing every single year; we get new families, you get new students and then at the end of the year, it’s always how the kids blossom,” said Jonathan Antonio, a first-grade paraeducator. “That’s always what I look forward to: end results.”

“Thrilled to be back; summer is exciting, great, but it’s always nice to be back with the kids,” Antonio continued.

Third-graders Aiden and Landon Radomski are looking forward to math and recess, their mother, Lindsay Radomski, said.

“I’m very excited to get the kids back and to watch our school grow,” Radomski said. “Our school, our community, our staff is all growing; it’s a beautiful space for all of our kids, and we’re going to keep moving forward.”

RH Dana third-grade teacher Lori Georgia said that she’s excited to start the new school year and watch the Spanish dual immersion language program continue to grow. 

“The dual immersion language program has moved up from kinder, first, second, and now it’s up another grade level with third grade,” Georgia said.

Third-grade Spanish teacher Maria Arbelo added that she is “excited to see our students grow emotionally, form lifelong friendships and a love of learning.”

As the RH Dana community continues to grow, RH Dana Principal Kristen Nelson noted that she is also excited for the dual language immersion and environmental science programs to expand this year.

“We are looking forward to continuing to grow as a school,” Nelson said, addin: “We will focus on our marine biology and environmental science component more this year.”

“New and former families continue to volunteer and support us in so many ways,” Nelson continued. “So, looking forward to this school continuing to grow and thrive.”

Parents also voiced excitement for a return to normalcy, as the school year begins with lifted COVID-19 restrictions.

Rosy Garcia’s children are in third and fifth grade at RH Dana. She’s looking forward to the normality with the pandemic simmering down, she said.

“I’m just excited that the kids get to enjoy a normal school year,” Garcia said.

Barbara Borkowski, whose daughter is entering second grade at RH Dana, echoed Garcia’s sentiments.

“I’m glad that we’ve figured it out and everyone can stay healthy and have a normal school year,” Borkowski said. “We love RH Dana, we love the community, we love that we get to have our daughters learn a different language, we love the teachers and principal.”

Masks are currently not required on Capistrano Unified School District campuses. COVID-19 regulations for schools are set by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and not up to the school district.

The indoor school mask mandate for California was lifted in April of this year—marking a shift from the previous school year, when students and educators were required to wear masks indoors while on campus.

However, masks are still recommended under CUSD’s COVID-19 safety plan for the current school year. Other CUSD safety guidelines include encouraging families to screen children, requiring staff to self-screen, posting signage reminding students to wash their hands, and schools frequently cleaning surfaces.

CUSD is also changing air filters on a regular basis and providing “adequate” air flow, according to its safety plan.

Social distancing and vaccinations are not currently mandated.

At Dana Hills High School, COVID protocols mainly apply to staff, Principal Brad Baker explained.

“For staff, we’re following Cal OSHA, along with CDPH, so we’ll continue to do that through the district’s guidance,” Baker said.

Nelson added that staff at RH Dana will be encouraging students to wash their hands frequently.

“Yes, we will still be careful in many ways,” Nelson said. “Students will be asked to wash hands, stay home when sick, and voluntarily test when exposed to a COVID-positive person.”

This is also the first year that middle schools and high schools will experience a later bell schedule because of State Senate Bill 328.

The later start time is aimed to give students a chance to get more sleep, with classes at Dana Hills starting at 8:30 a.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and later on Mondays for teacher collaboration, Baker explained.

Baker added that he’s proud of the faculty’s flexibility and resilience over the past few years.

“For the past three years, even despite COVID disruptions of learning and growing together as a staff, I’m really proud of our faculty and staff here because during the last three years, they have collectively rebuilt a mission vision with values and goals and they’re all aligned to really what we come down to, which is connect and inspire every Dolphin every day,” Baker said.

“Not only do we want to create a mission, but we want to live it, and that’s what we’re doing,” Baker continued.  “Dana is in a good place; our morale is high, and our teachers are ready and willing as they always are to go the extra mile to ensure our students are successful.”

Dana Hills High will host a parent and community night on Sept. 1 at 6 p.m. led by the Dolphin Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the school’s students, to share a new vision for the school.

“Some exciting releases, what we have planned for the next two years; some new partnerships, pathways, some academic improvement and unique offerings that will hopefully tie into some partnerships with our harbor and our ocean, coastal area occupations, so we’re really excited about that,” Baker said.

Breeana Greenberg

Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at bgreenberg@picketfencemedia.com

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