School begins for thousands of Sacramento-area students

Rio Linda seniors kick off school year with sunrise tradition

As thousands of Sacramento area students return to school starting this week, Rio Linda High School seniors began their final year by writing down their goals at sunrise.
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As thousands of Sacramento area students return to school starting this week, Rio Linda High School seniors began their final year by writing down their goals at sunrise.

The new school year began at dawn Tuesday in Rio Linda.

More than 100 Rio Linda High School seniors gathered in the football stadium for an annual tradition kicking off the year. They reunited with friends, watched the sun slide above the horizon and wrote down their senior-year goals.

“It’s the first thing we do as a class,” said Jaiden Johnson, 16, as she shivered under a blanket in the brisk morning air. “It’s pretty fun so far.”

They joined tens of thousands of students returning to class this week as schools across the Sacramento region continued a trend of opening their doors well before Labor Day. Twin Rivers and Folsom Cordova unified school districts began Tuesday, while Natomas Unified students head back Wednesday and Elk Grove begins its traditional school schedule Thursday.

Among key changes across the region this year: Students face a strict vaccination requirement for the first time. More high school students will begin taking integrated math rather than individual disciplines such as algebra or geometry. And kindergarten through third-grade class sizes will shrink as schools add teachers and classrooms.

But at Rio Linda High, it was all about maintaining tradition Tuesday. Principal Paul Orlando circulated among the seniors on the football field, asking for their written goals for the year.

“In June, we’ll meet again, and they’ll see how realistic their goals were,” he said.

Seniors will gather on the field again on the evening of June 1, the last day of the school year, to mark a companion event: watching the sun set.

“I want to pass all my classes,” said Genveleve Williams, who is taking advanced-placement calculus, English, economics and agricultural drawing. Her friend, Feliciana Lozano, 17, had similar goals: passing classes in English, advanced art, physical education, biology and math.

“We’re going to watch the sun rise as us seniors rise,” said Michael Egan, 17, as he swept his hand toward the emerging orb. “As the sun sets after we graduate, that’s the end of one day, the start of another.”

Across the Twin Rivers Unified School District, which includes Rio Linda High School, approximately 30,000 students rolled into 50 campuses Tuesday. At Folsom Cordova Unified, an estimated 20,500 students started the year.

Districts are figuring out how to comply with a new state law that no longer allows children without vaccinations to submit personal-belief exemptions. The policy applies to students enrolling in child care, kindergarten or seventh grade.

Natomas Unified has been holding vaccination clinics this week. In the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, students arriving at school without proof of immunization were not allowed in class until the could show they’d been immunized, according to spokesman Daniel Thigpen. Otherwise, students will be sent home.

The district will work with families to bring students into compliance “so we can get them back in the classroom as soon as possible,” Thigpen said in an email.

Other school districts will open in subsequent weeks, including San Juan Unified, Rocklin Unified, Davis Joint Unified and Sacramento City Unified.

When Sacramento city schools open Sept. 1, students in kindergarten through third grades will see dramatically smaller class sizes, an average of 24 students per teacher, down from last year’s range of 29 to 32 students per class.

San Juan Unified, which starts school on Aug. 18, will have smaller second-grade classes. And more students in the region will transition to integrated math, a catch-all for progressively blending geometry, algebra, statistics and other math concepts.