Students return to Modesto schools for new year. Here’s what awaits some of them

·4 min read

How do you spell the first day of school? N-e-w.

Students get new teachers, some who are new to teaching or new to their schools. Teachers get new students. Schools get new staff members.

Across California, high school students have new start times for their school days.

And in Modesto City Schools — and no doubt many other districts — students are greeted by improvements that are ready for their use or soon will be.

At Fairview Elementary in south Modesto, students filing onto school grounds walked right past a multipurpose room that’s expected to be open by the end of September.

Fairview is a large site, with about 780 students, Principal Jennifer Malone said Monday, the first day of the new school year.

The school’s current cafeteria can accommodate only one grade level at a time, so Fairview has seven lunch periods, she said. “But with the bond money (from Bond Measures D and E), the district was able to build this huge multipurpose room for us. ... We’ll be able to condense some of the lunches. Right now, we’re doing lunch from 10:50 to 1:30.”

Among other improvements at the school on West Whitmore Avenue is extended staff parking at the back of the school grounds that is gated and has key entry for safety.

To ease student drop-off, there’s also a new loop just for transitional kindergarten and Head Start children, Malone said. Other improvements to the parent drive-through have been made to mitigate what was a “huge traffic issue out on Whitmore,” she said.

Gladys Martinez, a new teacher in a new science classroom at Hanshaw Middle School, prepares to welcome students on the first day of school for Modesto City Schools, Monday, Aug. 8, 2022.
Gladys Martinez, a new teacher in a new science classroom at Hanshaw Middle School, prepares to welcome students on the first day of school for Modesto City Schools, Monday, Aug. 8, 2022.

A science boom at middle school

A couple of miles away, at Hanshaw Middle School, new science classrooms and labs are a highlight of improvements students will see.

Six classrooms in one wing of the school were “completely gutted and remodeled” into science classrooms with special features like sinks, large table desks for collaboration and whiteboards built into each wall, said Principal Debbie Butler. In between each pair of classrooms is a shared laboratory space.

“When we visited our feeder schools in the spring, we talked about our (incoming) seventh-graders being the first students to be able to use this space and how exciting it was,” Butler said. “In the past, our teachers didn’t have the ability to set up for labs and conduct elaborate labs that could take a couple of days with students because their lab space was their classroom space. So this allows them the flexibility to conduct more investigations and go through the scientific model with students. We’re very excited about the opportunities they have.”

New science labs at Hanshaw Middle School are among the improvements that await students on the first day of school for Modesto City Schools, Monday, Aug. 8, 2022.
New science labs at Hanshaw Middle School are among the improvements that await students on the first day of school for Modesto City Schools, Monday, Aug. 8, 2022.

New start times for some

Across California, school districts have pushed back start times to comply with a new law that requires class to begin later in the morning.

Based on studies suggesting that adolescents are happier and higher-performing when they are able to sleep longer, the law prohibits middle schools from starting before 8 a.m. and high schools from starting before 8:30 a.m. The law does not formally apply to elementary schools, but some districts have altered starting times for some elementary schools to accommodate transportation schedules.

The law has been contentious because of its potential effects on families who rely on public schools for childcare. Then-Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a school start-time bill in 2018, facing opposition from the California Teacher’s Association, which argued that lower-income families would be the most impacted by the change in their schedules.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the law in October 2019, allowing schools until July 1, 2022 to implement the changes. For Modesto high schools, a change on top of the later start is that the school day has been lengthened by about an hour.

Some families and district employees have decried the longer day as bad news for high-performing students and struggling, socioeconomically challenged ones alike, as well as for students who participate in sports and other extracurriculars and/or have elective periods at the start or end of the school day.

On its website, Modesto City Schools says that for elementary school students, there are only slight shifts to the start and end times. “Next school year, elementary schools will start between 8:15 a.m. and 8:35 a.m. You can visit bit.ly/MCS-Bell-Schedules to see our school schedules. For junior high students, there are no changes, and the start and end times will remain the same.”

Visit bit.ly/MCS-Bell-Schedules to view all MCS school schedules. The district also has a “frequently asked questions” document at bit.ly/MCS-Schedule-FAQs.

Monday also was the first day of the school year for Modesto’s feeder districts, Sylvan Union, Stanislaus Union and Empire Union.

Schools in Oakdale and Riverbank began their year Aug. 4. Among other bigger districts in the county, Ceres and Turlock start Wednesday and Patterson starts Thursday.

Sacramento Bee reporter Lucy Hodgman contributed to this story.

Balloons and banners greet students at Hanshaw Middle School on the first day of school for Modesto City Schools, Monday, Aug. 8, 2022.
Balloons and banners greet students at Hanshaw Middle School on the first day of school for Modesto City Schools, Monday, Aug. 8, 2022.