Ordinarily you don’t really need a calendar to tell you it’s the first day of school. The traffic flow is a dead giveaway. But early Tuesday morning Grand Avenue looked about like it does early on Sunday morning. Not until the 1800 block did a trickle of big yellow limousines hint that any DMPS classes are back in session for a new year. Bus drivers were chauffeuring students to Central Campus directly from their home neighborhoods, eliminating the “middle man” of their home schools. It wasn’t the beehive of buses that it typically is at that time on a weekday morning, but still…

“We are grateful to be sharing space with students,” said Central Campus Director Tascha Brown, “safely, of course.”

The largest school district in the state opted to open the 20-21 year on an almost exclusively virtual/online basis out of an abundance of caution and concern about the COVID-19 viral pandemic, which has been peaking recently across the Midwest region. But some classes and programs flat out can’t be delivered that way, not on anything like an equitable basis.

Chef Monica Wilson Cross, for instance, can’t ensure that all of the students in the award-winning and burgeoning Culinary Arts & Restaurant Management program have access to the equipment and ingredients they’ll need to concoct pineapple salsa. So they’ll have to come to their “lab” next Monday at Central where everything they’ll need will be provided.

“Yes, even under these extreme conditions equity of opportunity is a primary concern,” Chef Monica said as she greeted her first-year students Tuesday morning. The district can provide every student with a personal computer but not a commercial kitchen. “And the pandemic has added new layers to our curriculum. We always emphasize food safety and sanitation, of course, but now at a new and different level. And we teach marketing and menu planning, but now that’s in a context of restrictions like limited restaurant capacities.”

There were some signs of first-day normalcy. Schedule confusion is one example.

“Welcome back!” Chef Monica greeted one student enthusiastically. “Now go away,” she laughed. “You’re not supposed to be here today. Check your e-mails.”

According to Brown, 16 career-tech classes are requiring “seat time” in order that students will qualify for concurrent credits at DMACC as well as DMPS. They range from automotive and welding to fashion design and film.

One floor up from Cross’s kitchens Dr. Greg Barord, who’s been busy throughout the summer exploring new ways of reaching and teaching his marine biology students, was back in his primary element and welcoming students to a year when he’s expecting (more) big things. A large tank is under construction that will enable Barord to pursue acquisition of a giant Pacific octopus, a species that can weigh up to 50 pounds or more. It’s one of those if-we-build-it-one-will-come propositions. Barord is determined that his students not be shortchanged by the circumstances.

“I don’t really buy the whole ‘better than nothing’ thing,” he said. “I’ve had parents sounding like their kids aren’t going to get the full experience of this class but just because it has to be different doesn’t mean it can’t be just as good or better.”

It’s just a matter of adaptation, which is a central tenet of biology anyway. Barord chooses to see the situation as a yearlong teachable moment.

That’s the happy new year spirit, right?

Photos of the First Day of School at Central Campus
First Day at Central Campus

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