When the first school bell rang Tuesday, 103 children from the neighborhoods in and around Chinatown eagerly walked onto the grounds of their new elementary school--in Sherman Oaks.
The scene at Riverside Drive Elementary school was repeated at scores of other San Fernando Valley school campuses as thousands of students rode buses to escape crowded schools in their own communities.
About 58,000 Los Angeles Unified School District students rode the bus, some to participate in the district's desegregation program but most to attend classes in uncrowded San Fernando Valley and Westside schools.
And, in this record-high year for the number of students bused, 68 Valley schools, mainly in the West Valley, will act as "receivers" to about 20,000 students from crowded campuses in the East Valley, the Eastside, Central City and southeastern part of Los Angeles County. Last year 53 Valley schools were receiver schools.
Many of the bus riders are recently arrived immigrants who speak little or no English. And, in many cases, these youngsters have been assigned to schools that may not have bilingual teachers or counselors with experience working with immigrant students, school officials said.
Workshop Held for Staff
To help teachers and other staff members at these schools, the district held a two-day workshop that focused on language development and cultural nuances. For example, the teachers were told, patting a child on the head, a sign of affection and affirmation in Western cultures, is a sign of disrespect to the Vietnamese, who consider the top of the head sacred.
The district also responded to complaints from Valley schools that received children from crowded schools in the middle of the semester. In previous years, when several new students arrived on campus at the same time, classes had to be regrouped; and sometimes students had to change rooms and teachers in order to keep class sizes from growing above state-mandated levels.
This year, the district has assigned extra teachers to the receiver schools in anticipation of mid-semester enrollment growth. These instructors will teach smaller-than-normal classes at the beginning of the school so students can be added throughout the year.
By all accounts, Tuesday represented one of the smoothest school openings in years.
Officials were able to head off some last-minute glitches. For example, when some newly designed portable classrooms for Taft High School in Woodland Hills weren't available in time, officials brought in some old bungalows from nearby adult education centers.
It also was smooth at Birmingham High in Van Nuys, where first-day enrollment was 2,522, according to principal Mary Farrell.
"We have an additional 200 to 300 students being processed and registering for classes today," Farrell added. "We'll have over 3,000 students before it's all over."
After meeting the buses and strolling across the Frost Junior High campus in Granada Hills, principal Gerald E. Horowitz described the morning as "fantastic."
But Dan Ryan, assistant principal at Olive Vista in Sylmar, probably expressed the feelings of most students returning to school Tuesday when he said, "The best thing about school is July and August."