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By Alex Groves
Parents, students and teachers once again got ready for a time of year that brings out a mixture of emotions: The start of a new school year.
Parents rushed to get their children ready to go — Dressed, with backpacks on and school supplies in hand; Teachers finished up their lesson plans; Commuters adjusted their schedule for an assured increase in morning traffic.
The start of a new school year can definitely be stressful, but it can also be exciting. This year brought with it the arrival of new principals, new programs, new tech and various upgrades at different school sites.
San Juan Hills High School will be one of the first Capistrano Unified School District schools to use solar power after panels were installed in a student parking lot.
The district offices, also located in San Juan Capistrano, are expected to also get solar panels over winter break for the 2018-2019 school year, said district spokesman Ryan K. Burris.
The installation of solar panels is part of an $18 million contract between the district and REC Solar Commercial Corporation. In addition to San Juan Hills High School and the district offices, five other schools will also be receiving the panels.
The solar project is expected to save roughly $849,000 a year, for a total of $21 million in savings, according to a district news release.
There are two new principals at San Juan Capistrano schools; Pam Sawyer will be the new principal at Marco Forster Middle School and Carrie Bertini will be the new principal at San Juan Elementary School.
Several schools got spruced up ahead of the new school year.
Members of a group called “Shea it Forward” went to Marco Forster Middle School and neighboring Del Obispo Elementary and made a wide variety of changes that included mulching flower beds, making a butterfly garden and painting inspirational quotes on walls.
“They really went above and beyond to make our student’s environment really more beautiful,” Suzanne Heck, principal of Del Obispo Elementary, said.
Kinoshita Elementary also got some upgrades.
Company Appreciation Financial not only donated more than $2,000 to the school but also sent volunteers who helped to paint two of the mobile classrooms and turn one of the worse-for-wear areas of the school into a rock garden, according to principal Jose Pedraza.
Pedraza said students will be able to add rocks to the garden over time.
“The same company will donate some plain rocks with paint and students will have the opportunity to look at that rock and look at the shape of it and paint it according to what that rock looks like,” he said.
Pedraza said Kinoshita Elementary School did a soft roll out of college preparedness program AVID but plans to do a more full roll out this school year for students from kindergarten through fifth grade.
The program, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, seeks to help students with organizational skills and creates a culture that encourages them to pursue education beyond high school, Pedraza said.
“It pushes the kids and kind of creates a pathway for them to consider college from kindergarten all the way through high school,” he said.
Heck said that students at Del Obispo Elementary are learning how to write code in their computer science classes as part of a partnership with a program called codeCampus.
“Students are learning not how to play video games, but how to design video games,” Heck said.
She said the students will be writing code in a MIT-designed program called Scratch.
Meg Ervais, principal of Serra High School, said the school has a new class called Careers in Technology.
“This course allows students to investigate careers and innovative technology used in high-demand employment sectors,” Ervais wrote in an email. “Students will spend time utilizing these exciting modules to complete project and work based learning activities that incorporate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) concepts.”
As part of the class, students will work with equipment such as 3D printers, robotic arms, laser engravers and more.