Making new friends, buying new clothes and school supplies—unfortunately, for most Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District students, these time-honored, back-to-school rituals are on hold this year.

Instead, students are planning to wear their comfiest pajamas to class, using whatever supplies they can find in their desk drawer. And, they’re worrying if they’ll ever see their friends and feel a part of the student body again.

“I’m really disappointed that I’m not going to be able to meet new people,” said Maya Rosales, who will be a freshman at Palos Verdes High School. “There are not many people going to PV from [Rolling Hills Country Day School], so I’m trying to meet people now, so that if we do go back, I’ll have a few friends.”

And, when students are involved in extra-curriculars, it makes coming into a new school and joining a new team or club even more challenging.

“I feel that there are people that I should be close with and have a bond with because we’re a team.,” said Taryn Yamato, who will be a freshman and a member of the song team at Palos Verdes Peninsula High,. “We’re supposed to be a united group, and I only know two girls.”

Like many students, Peninsula Principal Dr. Brent Kuykendall said the lack of connection is one of his primary concerns with starting school online this fall.

“Students come to school to learn,” said Kuykendall. “But part of that learning is the connection with classmates and teachers and the relationships they build.

Those connections, said Kuykendall, are critical. “But, it’s almost impossible,” he added. “It’s my biggest challenge.”

Coaches and teachers also recognize the same difficulty and are doing whatever they can to bridge the gap.

Over the summer, spirit team coach Loretta Alvillar, taught material over Zoom. Once school starts virtually, she plans to work on cheers and routines and find creative ways with the cheer program to showcase the teams, the individual talents and keep school spirit and pride alive.

“Trying to figure out how to make a season that is meaningful for our teams is a big challenge,” Alvillar said. “I’m telling the girls to maintain a positive attitude and that we will make the best and most out of this unprecedented situation.

“But trying to get a team to learn material to perform together is hard when the girls aren’t together. You have a sense of isolation when you can’t physically see your teammates.”

As for the much-anticipated football schedule, the players are doing everything they can on their own until they can get back on the practice field on Dec. 14.

“There’s only so much we can do right now, so most of us are working out by ourselves,” said Sebastian Winkler, who plays quarterback. “But once school starts, we’ll probably go over film and plays and stuff online. I just want to play sports again.”

Athletics and friendships aside, Kuykendall said maintaining the school’s academic excellence is also high on his list of priorities.

“We’re a rigorous school. Pen has always had high marks academically,” he said. “The teachers are trying to modify their curriculum to do it virtually, but it’s hard for them. It’s like they are first-year teachers after 30 years. It’s a huge challenge, but some are making the adjust well.”

Unlike last spring when Kuykendall told his staff to keep the lessons simple and to ease up on their regular standards to help families adjust to the pandemic, he now has a different stance.

“We are going to ratchet it up a little more,” said Kuykendall. “We’ll be sensitive to [family situations], but it’s not going to be exactly what it was like in the spring.”

Students have also seen what worked and what didn’t work with online schooling and are making adjustments.

Some are trying to set up routines to keep the days and weeks flowing smoothly with homework and tests. Others are going to make a an effort to stay focused while online and not pick up their phones at the first sign of boredom, and most will admit that they have to get their sleep schedule under control.

“I procrastinated a lot when I didn’t have a set schedule,” Winkler said. “I’m going to set a structure, so every day is flowing.”

“Yeah, if we don’t do our homework and don’t do well in our classes, we’ll be lost when we do go back to school,” added Yamato “I don’t want to be in a worse situation with bad grades and no friends.”

Although the first day of school is Wednesday, Aug. 26, it will be met without fanfare. Instead of welcome back signs, pep rallies and hugs from friends, students will see little squares of new and old faces on their devices and acknowledge it as just another Zoom call.

There is nothing they can do, they said. So, they have learned to just accept and deal with it.

“We got our hopes up for graduation, but that didn’t happen,” said Rosales.

“Yeah, so, no one really talks about the virus or anything anymore,” added Yamato.

“It’s a tough year to swallow for everybody,” said Kuykendall. “But I tell them, ‘It’s not forever. So, let’s just do whatever you can do and go from there.’”

Kuykendall’s message and advice to students remains the same since last spring: appreciate everything you have; look for the good in the world and how much you can be thankful for; and make good choices by following all the health guidelines.

“Everything is unpredictable,” said Rosales “So, you just have to think positively that everything will be OK in the end.”

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