Chula Vista has a new elementary school and a new free meal program

As school districts across the county continue to open for the fall semester, there is both excitement and uncertainty about returning to campus.

Fahari L. Jeffers Elementary School just opened in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, serving 350 students on the Otay Ranch campus. It is named after a local legend.

“She was an incredible dynamic woman – a former Black Panther and a civil rights leader,” said director Shawna Codrington.

Jeffers was a lifelong community activist and labor leader who is best known for her role in founding the United Domestic Workers of America, the third union in US history founded by people of color.

The state-of-the-art school is equipped to support children who have survived the coronavirus pandemic and other challenges.

That includes food insecurity.

The recently implemented California Universal Meals program offers free meals to all students, regardless of need. State law also pays for school kitchen upgrades and staff training.

“It means everything and more and here’s why: If students don’t have healthy food to eat, then they don’t learn well,” Codrington said. “In order for them to learn and do their best, they have to have healthy meals.”

The 17 teachers on campus are on the front lines of educating and reconnecting students to a more familiar in-person classroom setting after two years of virtual learning.

Jenna Toth teaches sixth grade. “We were some of the most consistent things they saw and, for some of them, the only outside connections they had,” Toth said. “So they needed us then, and they needed us to come back.”

Julie Huezo has taught in the Chula Vista district for 23 years. This fall, she is teaching Jeffers’ new transitional kindergarten students, who are just 4 years old. It is a new beginning in her long career.

“All the mistakes they made in building schools years ago, they’ve solved everything and made everything better,” Huezo said. “We are creating humans who will grow up and make a difference in the world,” he added. “It starts in TK.”

Julia Watkins teaches a blended class of second and third graders. She is also a veteran South Bay educator. “I think this is the new normal,” she told KPBS News. “When we tell the children to put on the mask, they are ready. Some children come with masks; Others don’t. It is very normalized in the classroom.”

Parents are now becoming more involved in activities on campus. Jaycee Toro has two children at the new school. She supports the administration and staff and is proud of all the students who worked so hard to keep up with her studies.

“They have reasons why they feel the way they feel and they express them. They are more than children, they are people with thoughts, feelings and opinions about everything that has happened to them,” said Toro.

So far, the reviews for the new buildings and campus are good from top people like second-grader Isabella, who told KPBS, “They’re amazing along with the play structure. The builders did a really good job.” .”

Jeffers is the 50th campus in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, which is the largest elementary district in the state.

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