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By Collin Breaux

Cars came to gradual stops in the parking lot as kids got out and walked up the campus steps. Parents hugged their children. Teachers helped direct students to the right classroom. Friends greeted each other and smiled.

Tuesday, Aug. 16, was the first day of school for the 2022-23 academic year at Marco Forster Middle School. By all appearances, the start of the school year was a lively time for the school community.

Rubi Nunez served as a campus “ambassador” to welcome her fellow students back to campus after the summer break. She stood at the school entrance early Tuesday as other children filed in and added to the amiable aura on the school grounds. 

“I’m nervous, but I’m also really excited because of my friends,” Nunez said.

Nunez and some of the other student ambassadors have gotten to know their classmates and figure out where their classrooms are, because this is their second year at Marco Forster.

Student ambassadors at Marco Forster Middle School welcome classmates back to campus during the first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 16. From left: Ashlee Robson, Rubi Nunez, Naomi Christy and Xcaret Wolter. Photo: Collin Breaux

The 2022-23 school year marks a change from the previous year, because it is beginning without a mask requirement, a change welcomed by some students.

“It’s really nice, because it was harder to breathe with the mask on, and then now—since we’re ambassadors—we can smile and greet people, and they get to see our actual reactions,” said student Ashlee Robson.

COVID-19 regulations for schools are set by the California Department of Public Health and not up to the school district, a point repeatedly emphasized by CUSD officials.

The indoor school mask mandate for California was lifted in April—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 the school frequently cleaning surfaces.

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

Social distancing and vaccinations are not currently mandated, either.

Vivian Jackson, 11, was one of the students on the Marco Forster Middle School campus during the first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 16. The adult on the right declined to be identified. Photo: Collin Breaux

Kailey Nygaard, who is into her second year of teaching the Associated Student Body (ASB) program and seventh-grade history, said she and other teachers are excited to have students on campus. The ASB program gets students involved in campus life through leadership roles and activities.

“We’re excited to see all the growth that’s going to happen on campus, and it just seems like it’s a really good atmosphere right now,” Nygaard said. “Last year, being my first year, was a lot of learning on my part. Now, I’m really excited to continue learning and helping these students learn as well.”

Nygaard was looking forward to ASB activities, including the lunchtime gatherings that allow students to come together and get to know one another.

As for her reaction to the lack of a mask mandate, she called it “almost like a new start.”

“We’re getting to see their faces from Day 1,” Nygaard said. “Personally, I’ve only really taught during masks—minus when we took them off.”

Collin Breaux

Collin Breaux covers San Juan Capistrano and other South Orange County news as the City Editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. Before moving to California, he covered Hurricane Michael, politics and education in Panama City, Florida. He can be reached by email at cbreaux@picketfencemedia.com.

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