As Lindsey Shultzman hugged her third grade students goodbye on the last day of school Wednesday, she did so as both a teacher and a parent.
Shultzman, who has taught at Dondero Elementary for five years, waved to her students while standing next to her daughter Shea, who was a student in her mom’s third grade class this year.
“We’ve kind of grown up at this school together, me as an educator and her as a student,” she said. “We got to have this year together, which was —”
“Amazing,” her daughter interjected.
As the Dondero students laughed and tearfully waved goodbye to Shultzman, their friends and other school staff, they left behind the last day of school in the Clark County School District, but also their first full year back to in-person instruction following two abnormal school years.
Shultzman had a first row seat to the unique challenges that the students, including her daughter, have grappled with this year in returning to school after the pandemic, including catching up on basic reading and writing skills that they should have acquired last year.
“It was just a bigger leap for us to get them where they needed to be at the end of the year,” she said.
It’s a leap that parent Christina Campos knows well.
Campos, whose children are in second and fifth grade at Dondero, said her daughter struggled with coming to in-person classes at the start of the school year.
“She didn’t understand what school was. She didn’t have the proper setting for a long time,” Campos said. “It was a lot.”
But despite her daughter not having many basic reading skills at the beginning of the school year, Campos credits her daughter’s “amazing” teacher with getting her daughter to a level where she’s now reading the subtitles on anime shows.
“It’s like flipped all the way around,” Campos said with a laugh. “If they want to do it, they’ll read.”
Principal Terri Castillo, who celebrated her first anniversary at Dondero in April, said this year was primarily spent getting kids comfortable, catching them up and easing them back into the environment of learning in the classroom.
Next year, it’s game on, she said.
“This is the year that we are focusing on that highest quality instruction, moving kids forward, giving 110 percent of what we have,” she said.
Undertones of Texas shooting
But as parents dropped their children off at Dondero at the start of the school day on Wednesday, some hugged their children as they cried. Others watched through the chain-link fence that surrounded the school, waiting until their children were safely inside the building.
The last day of school also came a day after a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, claimed the lives of 19 students and two adults.
Campos said after dropping her children off Wednesday that her son has a fear of school shootings. On the way to school that morning, she said, he told her about a dream he had where something had happened on the last day of school.
That morning, news of the Uvalde shooting played in the car on the radio on their way to school.
“He doesn’t want to go to middle school because he’s like, ‘I don’t know if they’re going to be as safe,’” Campos said.
In a statement Tuesday, the district extended its support to the community of Uvalde and said it was continuing to review security on its school campuses.
“Schools exist to provide places of learning, consistency, normalcy, and safety for our students and communities,” the district said. “We must do everything we can to protect these spaces from those who seek to do harm, disrupt, and desecrate.”
‘We feel safe here’
The news out of Uvalde comes as the district has coped with its own concerns around school safety this year.
Last month, the district reported that it had more than 5,700 calls for service regarding fights, batteries or assaults, and 1,300 cases resulting in arrests or citations on campuses since the beginning of the school year. The district also rolled out new protocols and safety measures that included streamlining one point of entry at schools, increasing police presence around schools and implementing new disciplinary actions for students who engage in fighting.
Miguel Cordova, whose daughter Grace graduated from fifth grade at Dondero on Wednesday, said he’s seen the news about what’s happening related to school violence, but that ultimately his daughter is happy, enjoying her time at school and making friends.
“We feel safe here,” Cordova said. “We can see that they’re taking care of the kids, so we’re happy.”
Students had questions about what happened in Texas, but Shultzman, the teacher, said she instead chose to help students leave the school year focusing on the positives: the memory of what it was like to come back on the first day of school; learning how to play Heads Up, Seven Up; or the fake spelling test they took on April Fool’s Day.
Shultzman said the students worked hard to push themselves beyond what was expected of them this year, and it was “amazing to have seen it.”
But ultimately, she said, she’ll always remember this school year as the year she was able to teach her daughter in her own classroom.
“To see the dynamic of her in a classroom … you don’t get to see your kids in that light,” she said through tears Wednesday, with her daughter quickly hugging her to comfort her. “When the opportunity came (to place her in my class), my husband said, ‘You will never get this opportunity again.’ I’m so glad he said that to me, because truly, like, a year I will just never forget.”
Contact Lorraine Longhi at 480-243-4086 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @lolonghi on Twitter.