Mijares: The sky’s the limit on what our students, schools can accomplish this year

Back to school season has officially begun, and while the last few years have taught us valuable lessons about making predictions, it is noteworthy that this is the first new school year since 2019 to start without strict requirements for face coverings or contact tracing, bringing us closer to a more traditional school experience. 

Moving forward, we must continue to be mindful of the less visible impacts of the pandemic, and our schools are well-equipped to do this. As students return, we know that many will be in need of accelerated learning, social-emotional interventions, counseling and access to wrap-around mental health services. 

Al Mijares at his desk

School employees who have been on the front lines also need support, stability and grace. And of course our families need expanded learning opportunities, robust communication from their schools and districts, and access to resources. 

Certainly the last school year posed extraordinary challenges, and no two experiences were quite the same. Many of our students, families and school employees endured illness, disruption and personal loss on a scale that is unimaginable.

Yet we also heard incredible stories of resilience, innovation and achievement in 2022. 

At Westminster High School, for example, four students who were concerned about declining bee colonies were honored for their proposal to create a probiotic that can strengthen bees against insecticides. Earlier in the year, our own OCDE educators set up schools for about 60 newly arrived Afghan children whose families were forced to flee their home country after assisting U.S. troops or holding other positions that compromised their safety. 

In districts and charter schools across the county, our students earned county, state and national recognition for devising solutions to real-world problems. They produced mental health videos, built highly innovative smartphone apps, designed electric vehicles, partnered with industry leaders for work-based learning opportunities, and expressed themselves through the visual and performing arts. 

The success stories are too numerous to list here, but I would be remiss in not mentioning that two of California’s five Teachers of the Year for 2022 were from Orange County, as were four of the state’s top nine Classified School Employees of the Year

While the past few school years have tested us in so many ways, I am beyond proud of our schools for continuing to provide exceptional experiences for students and opportunities for them to shine. As we head into another fall, the sky’s the limit on what we can accomplish together. Let’s take care of one another and make it a great year.