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September 29, 2023

Hollister School District reports strong summer turnout

Grass fields receive upgrades, meal program thriving

The Hollister School District went through some major changes during the Covid-19 pandemic, including the introduction of distance education. 

This year’s summer period was also a tad bit different as the district for the first time allowed the general student population to participate in summer school. 

Emma Veltri, summer school principal at Marguerite Maze Middle School, said the turnout has been great and just a handful of students have dropped from summer instruction. 

“That is our goal, to get them excited to come back to school and excited to be a Maze Hawk,” she said.

According to some local principals, students were especially excited about being in classrooms after spending so much time away from their peers.

In the past, the schools historically invited migrant and special education students along with those who were behind on academics to summer school. Due to the pandemic and related learning loss, the schools this year allowed all students to attend summer school, which started June 28 and lasts through July 30. 

The hybrid model used in the final months of the 2020-21 school year was scrapped and the classes have been taught in person. 

According to the district, the school principals pointed to the additional learning of robotics and coding with Legos as a mainstay in the summer curriculum.

The school district said the summer period has offered an opportunity for campuses to transition back to full time in-person learning for the 2021-22 year, which begins in August. 

The district increased the length of in-person learning from two hours to four hours in summer school before moving toward full days in the fall. 

“It’s a good stepping stone,” said Jeannine Ostoja, Ladd Lane Elementary School summer principal.

While summer school has been a success, district staff noted it also has underscored challenging social and emotional impacts on students resulting from the pandemic. 

“We won’t really see the full effect of it until everybody’s back on campus full time, hopefully in the fall,” Ostoja said. “Definitely, I feel like students have been through a lot.” 

Ostoja said students from all types of backgrounds and family environments have shown signs of such impacts. In response, summer school classroom instruction has had a focus on social and emotional learning. 

Ostoja mentioned two Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs—Capturing Kids Hearts and Sanford Harmony—are used by teachers to help students share their feelings with one another in the course of instruction. 

“It’s helping build relationships,” she said. 

Grass fields and inner tracks receive upgrades 

The Covid-19 pandemic created a “unique opportunity” for Hollister School District to overhaul various sports fields to benefit students and the broader community. 

In partnership with the City of Hollister, the district made significant improvements to fields at Calaveras, R.O. Hardin, Maze, Gabilan Hills and Rancho San Justo schools. 

Aaron Buzzetta, director of facilities, said that school leaders decided it was the appropriate time for the much-needed upgrades, especially with fewer people on the campuses. 

He mentioned the local fields were riddled with issues such as gopher holes, general overuse and dried-out grounds. 

“Covid provided a unique opportunity for us to have flexibility of getting onto the fields and moving about freely,” Buzzetta said. “We were able to get a tremendous amount of work done in a relatively short period of time.” 

Other repairs included the inner tracks at Maze Middle and Gabilan Hills Elementary schools. 

The inner track was also repaired at Rancho San Justo Middle, which has been busy during the summer. 

Buzzetta said they plan to address the remainder of the fields at that school in the late fall or winter after the district received several phone calls inquiring about usage as the state reopened.  

“I couldn’t shut that field down during the summer with all the activity and all the buzz,” Buzzetta said.

Maintenance crews repaired the grass within the campus fence boundary at Calaveras Elementary. The improvements at R.O. Hardin Elementary included an extensive overhaul of the three baseball diamonds with new red infield mix and new grass. 

The students will have a pleasant surprise waiting for them when they return to school, but the general public can also enjoy the upgraded facilities. 

Over the summer, local programs such as the Junior Giants used the improved ball fields. Buzzetta said other youth sports programs such as the Vikings and Rebels football programs will benefit.  

He mentioned that a financial partnership with the City of Hollister was instrumental toward getting the work done. 

“It’s just a beautiful upgrade, and a fantastic improvement to the district and community,” he said. “We’re a town of competitive and recreational sports, from football to soccer to softball and baseball… It’s a complete win for the community as a whole.”

Free lunch summer program thrives

The Student Nutrition Department has provided hot and cold meals during the summer at local campuses and through nonprofit community partners. The district distributed roughly 1,500 balanced meals per day. 

According to the school district, the summer period has been an opportunity to transition from a program during the pandemic, which included offering boxes of meals five days a week.

Ann Pennington, director of student nutrition, said it was the first time they did any face-to-face hot meals in a year and a half.

“We did it because we really felt like the kids, more than anybody, were ready for that,” she said. “They missed having that interaction with my staff and with the food.” 

Hot meals are still offered at all the district’s school sites Monday through Friday from 12:30-1:15pm. 

Pennington said examples of menu offerings might include a chicken sandwich with fruit and vegetable items on the side or a slice of pizza with a salad. She emphasized students attending summer school and all other children are eligible for the meals. 

“We’re really pleased we’re able to do that,” she said. 

The district also offers cold meals to residents ages 18 and under. The food is distributed through various partners such as the San Benito Health Foundation, Hollister Recreation and the YMCA.

Pennington expressed gratitude for all the nonprofits involved and lauded her staff members for their commitment, particularly since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

She said most of the staff has continued working during the summer. 

“We want to feed as many kids as we can possibly reach,” Pennington said.

Anyone interested in learning more about the program and its offerings can call 831.630.6300, extension 388.

Hollister School District still offers hot meals at all the district’s school sites, including Maze Middle School, Monday through Friday from 12:30-1:15pm. Photo: contributed

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