By Noel Smith
According to Principal Caryn Lane, Valencia Elementary School is not a just a place, but a community. The school / community, located in Aptos, proved that concept this year when the school was forced to close and move its students, teachers and staff to three different locations and the community provided the support needed to succeed.
The winter storms of 2017 and the amazing amounts of rainfall in January and February caused Trout Creek to wash out the culvert under Valencia Road between Trout Gulch Road and Aptos School Road on January 23 closing the. This resulted in school buses and parents taking the kids to school via a 10-mile detour, much of it on steep and winding Valencia Road.
Then, two sections of Valencia Road had slip outs reducing it to one lane at two stretches.
On February 10, 2017 Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) decided to close Valencia school. The roads were deemed too dangerous for full size school buses and for the added school commute traffic. The decision was made by the District to move the student body into three separate locations; Mar Vista Elementary School for the kindergarten classes, Cabrillo College for 1-3rd grade, and Aptos High School for 4th-6th grade plus the special classes for the remaining four months of the school year.
This was Caryn Lane’s first year as a principal but fortunately she was in familiar surroundings as Aptos was her hometown. She is an Aptos High School Grad and she had been a teacher at Valencia Elementary School. “This was a big advantage,” said Lane, “because I was working in familiar surroundings and often with people I already knew. I’m glad I didn’t have to do this as an outsider.”
Getting the new transportation schedules and routes to work efficiently took some time. Katy Powell Director of transportation for the PVUSD and her staff would get daily reports about traffic problems and the arrival times for the three different locations. They kept working to adjust routes and schedules until the system met the needs of getting the kids to school on time and returning them home safely.
Some parents chose to carpool taking their children and their neighbor’s children to school and finding themselves with a whole new group of friends.
The classrooms for the 1-3rd graders at Cabrillo were actually rooms on the second floor of the old theater building which had been storage areas for sets used by 44 of the students and the music practice area for the other 40. The college amphitheater was used as the playground.
For the kindergartners housed at Mar Vista School (which they renamed Marlencia), they were able to share the classrooms while keeping the Valencia School teachers.
Aptos High School didn’t have just one area that the 4-6th graders (the MiniMariners) could use so the classrooms used ranged from the top to the bottom of the campus. The old wrestling building was used as a playground area at first then as the weather improved they were able to use the tennis courts.
Now it’s a new school year with everything back to “normal” but the 2016-2017 school year will be remembered as a special time for the students and staff of Valencia Elementary School. Caryn described it as “The Year’s biggest field trip for them all.”