Wednesday will be the first day of school unlike any other for tens of thousands of students in Bakersfield. Many of those students haven't stepped foot on a school campus, been on a school bus or seen their classmates for 17 months.
Teachers, administrators and staff members at school districts throughout the county have been working furiously throughout the summer, planning for the arrival of students on this day. There's uncertainty about what this year will look like, but there's also a lot of excitement.
At one of these districts beginning school Wednesday, preparations were in the works on Monday. Panama-Buena Vista Union School District held its all-district meeting to prepare for the year, streaming messages from district leaders to all of its school sites.
This was the first time this many teachers had gathered together in one place in person since the pandemic started and it was a momentous occasion. At Van Horn Elementary School, there were no late-comers.
"Everyone arrived 20 minutes early," said Van Horn principal Trina Lovio.
Monday was a time for the staff to prepare for the beginning of the school year. Lovio shared strategies for English language learners who make up 25 percent of the school population. Superintendent Katie Russell discussed what she hopes will be the district culture.
There was also a sense of celebration and even giddiness that students would soon arrive. PBVUSD's all-district theme was "Tiki Land" and teachers wore leis and island-themed garb. Russell said the theme of this year is "joy." Every teacher began talking about the year with the same phrase: "I'm excited."
This year will be Celina Sandoval's first as a fourth grade teacher. She's looking forward to teaching, even though she's joining after an unusual school year during what she calls an "unprecedented" time in education. She said it's her job to make sure her students feel welcome and comfortable, no matter what they missed out on last year.
"I don't want to make them feel like they're behind," she explained. "A lot of people say there's a learning loss, which I'm sure there is, but I don't want them to feel like they don't know what they're doing."
Teachers talked about putting a lot of extra care into prepping their classrooms this year. Third grade teacher Gail West said she wanted students "to feel welcome and safe and that they own the classroom."
PBVUSD's all-district meeting had a "Friends" theme with a video set to The Rembrandts' "I'll Be There for You."
"2020 can take a hike, 2021 is gonna be great," went the rewritten lyrics.
And also: "It's gonna be our day, our week, our month, and even our year...to make sure you're safe."