Aloha. It's the Hawaiian word for hello, goodbye, and to remember with affection. This made it the perfect theme for the gathering of parents from Duprey, Von Humboldt, and DeDiego Elementary Schools – De Diego's first event as a potential welcoming school.
As they gathered in the Von Humboldt library, parents from each school were handed colorful Hawaiian leis and greeted by all three principals with that uniquely symbolic "Aloha".
"It was a wonderful atmosphere," said DeDiego principal Alice Vera. "It set the perfect tone for what we want to achieve, which is making these three schools feel like one community."
Pending final decisions on the consolidation of underutilized schools, DeDiego will act as the welcoming school for students from both Duprey and Von Humboldt. Last week's gathering was the first collaboration by the three schools, and each was well represented by both parents and school administrators.
"There was a strong turnout by every school," said Duprey principal Gloria Roman. "It was a good opportunity for the parents to get to know each other and get some of their questions answered."
After the Hawaiian-themed welcome, community representative Lynette Santiago gave a moving speech about the challenges that come with periods of change.
"She talked about how attached she'd been to her church, and how difficult it was for her when it closed," said Principal Vera. "But she hit the nail on the head by saying that a church or school is not a building, but a community. It was an inspiring speech that touched us all on a personal level."
After these remarks, parents were given the opportunity to ask questions of the administrators and of each other – an exercise that helped break the ice and build relationships among members of the three school communities.
"I'd say it went phenomenally well," said Principal Vera. "The parents immediately seemed to have a rapport. Our parent group even invited the parents from Duprey and Von Humboldt to join them at DeDiego's parent seminar the next evening."
Should it be made an official welcoming school, DeDiego plans to host additional integration events, including a family welcome picnic and a field trip for new and existing students.
"Right now, we're three separate schools, but already we're one community," said Principal Vera. "Only a few blocks separate our buildings, which means that our students are already part of a single neighborhood. We're committed to becoming one school community as well."
No matter what school they haled from, all who attended last week's gathering agreed that their greatest concern is the educational experience that awaits their children come fall.
"These are not the easiest of circumstances," said Duprey principal Gloria Roman. "But we're here to support one another, and to remind each other that what makes a school are its people. It's clear we have great people all around, which means that this will be a great school."