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Holtville High School office staff member Valerie Mendoza checks students’ temperatures as they enter campus for the first day of classes on Monday, Aug. 23. | MARCIE LANDEROS PHOTO

Holtville Schools’ First Day Met with Nerves, Excitement

Parents Concerned About Sending Children Back to School Have Freedom Academy, Principal Says

HOLTVILLE — As students returned to Holtville Unified School district campuses for the first day of full in-person classes since the beginning of the quarantine in March 2020, Holtville High School teachers, parents, and students expressed both nervousness and excitement.

Holtville High School Athletic Director C.J. Johnston directs a student to her first class on Monday morning, Aug. 23. | MARCIE LANDEROS PHOTO

Alicia Arevalo, special education teacher for the district, couldn’t hide her excitement at having students return to campus full time on Monday morning, Aug. 23.

“I’m a little nervous, but I am really excited to have them back. I know it’s been a tough year and a half for them, but I am mostly excited to get to see them, and spend some with them, and get to talk to them,” she said.

Arevalo shared her plans to help her students adjust being back to school after being away for so long.

“I want to make sure they feel comfortable, that is my main priority before anything else,” she added. “So, I do have some ice breakers and some different activities I want to do with them, of course six feet apart, because I know my kids, and they are going to be like, ‘No! I want to be close!’”

“I am excited to be back,” said Valerie Mendoza, one of the office staff members, who was checking for signs of COVID as students entered campus. “It is so exciting to see students back on campus.”

Mendoza sat outside the school office, along with other staff, checking students’ temperatures, questioning them for signs of COVID, making sure they had their masks, and providing students with hand sanitizer as they walk into the school. This practice, Mendoza said, started when students returned to hybrid classes last year, and would be continuing for the foreseeable future.

Just a short walk from Mendoza, teachers could be seen greeting students as they arrived to class.

Students stand outside Holtville High School’s campus on Monday morning, Aug. 23, before the start of the first day of classes. | MARCIE LANDEROS PHOTO

“It’s good to be back,” said James Anderholt, a math teacher who mostly works with juniors and seniors. “It’s been a while since we got to see the kids in the classroom.”

Teachers were not the only people on campus unsure of how to feel. Students expressed nervousness and excitement at being back to school.

“I am nervous, but I am also excited to see my friends,” Julie Cortes, a 15-year-old sophomore, said on her way onto campus.

James Anderholt, one Holtville High School’s math teachers, stands waiting for late comers in front of his classroom door on the first day of school on Monday, Aug. 23. | MARCIE LANDEROS PHOTO

“It feels weird, coming off your bed doing nothing. And a new school … It feels weird you know,” 14-year-old Edward Gaxiola said. When asked what grade he was in, he replied nervously, “What grade am I in? I don’t know. I don’t remember. I wasn’t keeping track last year. I just remember being on my laptop.”

Domina Still, a 17-year-old senior, was much more confident about returning to school.

“I am feeling pretty good,” she said with a smile as she walked to her first class. “As long as everyone keeps their mask up, I am feeling OK.”

Some parents seemed even more apprehensive than students and staff.

Melissa Mitosinka, who has seven kids returning to school — three in elementary school, two in junior high, and two in high school — was feeling particularly antsy.

“This is nerve wracking. Only two of my kids have the COVID shot, and with the other virus coming, I don’t know. But the home schooling wasn’t good either, so I don’t know,” she said. “I just don’t know.”

Holtville High Principal Anthony Arevalo said he empathized with the stress parents are feeling and shared a message for any parent who felt their child was not ready to return to school.

“Here, all of our classes will be in person this year. However, if they’re not ready for that, they are welcome to attend Freedom Academy (charter school) with us at the district. Freedom Academy is an alternative to Holtville High School, where they can work from home, they can work at their own pace,” he said.

Freedom Academy of Imperial Valley opened in August 2012 and serves as a kindergarten through 12th-grade alternative to traditional classroom settings. The academy functions through independent study and serves students from throughout the Imperial Valley. While students do work on lessons as they choose, those lessons are still aligned with Common Core and California State Standards, just like a normal classroom.

Principal Arevalo explained that moving to Freedom Academy isn’t only limited to students who are nervous about attending.

“We have a lot of students who do that because they might be working, or if they have other things going on,” he said. “It gives them a lot of flexibility to not have to be in a traditional classroom setting from 8 to 3.”

Students line up in front of Holtville High School’s office to pick up their schedules on the first day of classes on Monday morning, Aug. 23. | MARCIE LANDEROS PHOTO

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