Brand New School

Eliot School Principal Diane Elia points out to Marsy Cisneros

Students returned to school Monday facing new classes, new
teachers, new principals and in one case
– a new school.
Gilroy – Students returned to school Monday facing new classes, new teachers, new principals and in one case – a new school.

By 8am children and their parents were pouring through the side entrances of the new Eliot School and assembling on the blacktop, waiting for the first bell of the new school year. Many carried plastic bags filled with classroom donations such as tissue and paper towels for their teachers.

“It’s very exciting,” said Eliot School Principal Diane Elia as she greeted students at the gate. “I think everyone’s excited about having a new school.”

For the past two years, Eliot students have been housed across town at the Ascension Solorsano Middle School campus while their new two-story school was built.

Kindergartners arrived shoulders hunched, fingers stuffed in their mouths, led across campus by their parents and in some cases grandparents. Some stood close by looking wide-eyed at the other students. Other children were chatting away and laughing with old friends, familiar with the back to school routine.

Six-year-old Ethan Camarillo stood with his parents, Dia and John, grinning with anticipation about starting first grade.

“I’m excited about doing fun things today … like painting and drawing and stuff,” he said.

Some children wheeled their backpacks across the cement, while their parents peeked around corners checking out the new school.

A parade of students led by their teachers entered through the large wrought iron gates of the Eliot School for the first time since it opened.

“It’s good to see their faces. They’re calling it ‘Our school,’ instead of sharing it with the big kids,” said Amelia Hoph-Simpson, who works yard duty at Eliot. “I think they’re excited to see their new classrooms.”

As the students passed Principal Elia, a teacher encouraged them, saying, “Have a good year guys. Study hard. You’ll do a good job. You’re big guys now.”

Down to the flowers planted around the edges, and perfectly painted lines on the playground – the only reminder of the past two years of construction is a yellow plastic barricade blocking the front lawn off as the sod grows together.

Fourth grader Jennifer Garcia summed it up best: “The other school was old. And we didn’t have a cafeteria. This is better.”

About 9,600 students returned to Gilroy Unified School District campuses and most experienced a smooth first day back.

And instead of the traffic snarl parents may have imagined on Santa Teresa Boulevard due to road closures from repaving – delays were minor if noticeable at all, said Mt. Madonna Continuation High School Principal Sergio Montenegro.

He would know. The former Luigi Aprea School Principal spent the day bouncing back and forth between Mt. Madonna and the elementary school.

“Both went off without a hitch,” he said.

After a presentation of the rules and new board policies to students, Montenegro introduced himself to students at the high school.

“I did walkthroughs … I spoke of the importance of passing the (California High School Exit Exam) this year,” he said.

Another new principal made the rounds at his own campus. James Maxwell stood surveying the lunch period at Gilroy High School Monday afternoon, looking comfortable in his new role.

A handful of students approached him just to say hello, others with questions.

“The kids have all been very polite, very happy,” he said.

Driving to work this morning, Maxwell wasn’t nervous. However he admitted: “I didn’t sleep at all last night. My wife asked me, ‘Are you nervous?’ I said, ‘No, I’m anxious.'”

Sitting at his desk hands behind his head, Maxwell didn’t appear either.

“I’ve got my computer working and my phone working, but we’ll see about furniture,” he said.

This summer, GHS’ administrative offices were renovated and he is in need of new furniture. Overhead light fixtures in the reception area are missing and Assistant Principal Greg Camacho-Light’s office is stacked high with cardboard boxes.

The only problem that arose Monday: The school was short two sets of science textbooks.

Just up the road at Solorsano, middle school students were released exactly at 2:45pm.

How was it to be back?

“Complicated,” said Iman Bibi, an eighth grader at Ascension Solorsano Middle School. “There were so many people.”

For the first time since it opened, the school is home to all three middle school grades. The change was overwhelming for some.

“In class, two kids couldn’t sit because there weren’t enough chairs,” eighth grader Elisabet Barrios said. Her favorite part of the day was lunch. “Because I didn’t have classes with my friends and I got to see them then,” she said.

Adrian Gonzales was glad to be back on campus.

“It feels good to be back,” the seventh grader said. “It was boring at home.”

The homework he has already accumulated after one day should keep him busy.

But that was not the case for sixth grader Horizon Thayer.

“I was expecting to have homework the first day,” she said. “I had no clue what it was going to be like.”

For most students, seeing their friends was key to enjoying the day.

“At first, when I got here I was kind of scared,” said sixth grader Marissa Newton. “Then a few minutes later I saw my friends and I realized I shouldn’t be scared because I have my friends here.”

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