Essential California: The ‘8 to 3’ life

A mother and son draw with chalk on the sidewalk
Los Angeles Times staff writer Sonja Sharp and her 5-year-old son in Pan Pacific Park. Sonja is spearheading a new schools and parenting newsletter called 8 to 3.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Wednesday, March 31, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

As the pandemic took hold, my colleague Sonja Sharp carved out a new niche at the Los Angeles Times, focusing on the particular issues faced by families with young children during a pandemic, and the infrastructure that supports them. She became an expert on the complex tangle of law, labor, funding and bureaucracy that governs child care and education in California.

[Read more about Sonja’s work: “The unique challenges faced by families with young children during a pandemic” in the Los Angeles Times]

As campuses across California begin to welcome back students, Sonja is launching a new schools and parenting newsletter dedicated to the questions that keep California families up at night. Her weekly newsletter, 8 to 3, will aim to tackle the complex questions parents like her are facing everyday.


She will draw on her experience as a reporter, the mother of a 5-year-old and a kindergarten-through-UC Berkeley graduate of California public schools to help readers navigate everything from daily struggles of parenting school-age children to coping with thorny policy issues.

The newsletter, which launches in April, will be sent out every Monday evening. I spoke to Sonja about the newsletter and her work. Here’s our conversation, condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

What is 8 to 3?

This is a newsletter about schools and parenting. And I mean that in the broadest sense. I chose this name because it echoes 9 to 5. When we hear 9 to 5, we understand that that means work, even if those aren’t the only hours we work.

If you’ve ever had a kid in basically any school, whether it’s day care or going up into higher ed, 8 to 3 are the hours that we’re ruled by, right? Because if you’re in public school, those are the hours that care is free and education is provided by the state. And if you’re in private school, that’s the base pay.

Even though we know education happens all the time, for me talking about 8 to 3 was a way of talking about a thing that’s a part of our lives, as labor we all do. Nearly half of public school teachers have children living at home, so I wanted to make sure that whatever term we used wasn’t exclusive of any one group of people.

Why launch it right now?

It’s a very critical moment, because now is when so many schools across the state are returning to campus. And that’s starting to give us a sense of what schools and our lives might look like going forward.

I feel like I’m like a lot of parents, in that I never had to be an expert in the way that I am now until the pandemic hit. And then all of a sudden I had to learn all of this stuff about how these massive systems work.

Can you tell us more about how being a parent has shaped your reporting during the pandemic?

I remember the day that they announced that LAUSD was shutting down, because my kid’s preschool had shut down the day before. So he was sitting with me while I was trying to report on this, and talk to other parents who were trying to figure out the same exact stuff I was trying to figure out.

In those early days, because I was living it and all my colleagues with kids were also living it, we kind of intuitively understood that those questions were the same questions that parents all over L.A., the state and the country had.

What are the biggest things you’ll be watching for on your beat over the next few weeks and months?

Equity has been one of the things we’ve attended most closely to in our reporting. The kind of already glaring inequities that became blinding and overwhelming during this pandemic have already been the story. I think we’re going to be watching for how those play out as many more schools return to campuses.

I think health is also top of mind for many parents. We have a lot of data and studies and there are a lot of schools in other parts of the country that have been in person for a while. But there’s nothing that compares to when it’s your actual child. We’re going to be looking very closely at the health and safety protocols, how they’re being followed and any information we can get about any spread that potentially happens at schools.

[Sign up for 8 to 3, a newsletter about school, kids and parenting from the Los Angeles Times]

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

L.A. and O.C. businesses are cleared for more reopenings, but officials urge caution: Both counties have officially moved into California’s orange tier — the next-to-last step in the state’s reopening process, according to state data released Tuesday. The move clears the way for local officials to allow more reopenings, but they won’t happen immediately in Los Angeles.

L.A. County’s public health director said a revised health order allowing many of the reopenings outlined in the orange tier wouldn’t go into effect until April 5. Waiting a bit longer, she said, will give the county more time to make sure that the previous red-tier reopenings have not increased coronavirus transmission. Los Angeles Times

[See also: “New California guidelines clear the way for pop-up outdoor theater and music” in the Los Angeles Times]

A majority of likely California voters would keep Gov. Gavin Newsom in office if a recall election were held today, according to a new poll, conducted as vaccinations in the state increase and the Democratic governor ramps up his campaign to fight the effort to remove him. Los Angeles Times

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


Inside painter Amy Sherald’s first West Coast solo show: “The Great American Fact” features five paintings made in 2020 centering Black ordinary life. Los Angeles Times

Artist Amy Sherald poses with her painting of a Black couple posed in front of their car
Artist Amy Sherald poses with a painting of hers at Hauser & Wirth.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

L.A. city residents can now apply for rent help from a $235-million fund. Here’s what you need to know. Los Angeles Times

UCLA defeats No. 1 Michigan to go to Final Four: UCLA held off Michigan, 51-49, in the East Regional final. The Bruins will face top-seeded Gonzaga on Saturday in a national semifinal after the Bulldogs routed USC. Los Angeles Times

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President Biden announced steps to protect Asian Americans from discrimination and violent attacks, including establishing a Justice Department initiative to address a rising number of hate crimes since the pandemic originated in China. Los Angeles Times


Newsom announced he was setting aside more than $80 million in emergency funding for firefighting in anticipation of what could be another horrific year for fires in the state. Last year’s fire season was the largest in modern California history. San Francisco Chronicle


Punjabi truckers are essential, but little COVID-19 information has been available in their native language. Valley Public Radio

[Further reading from 2019: “Sikh drivers are transforming U.S. trucking. Take a ride along the Punjabi American highway” in the Los Angeles Times]

The story behind the piped-in soundtrack at the largest vaccination hub in San Francisco: The official vaccine playlist at the Moscone Center has gone through a few iterations. San Francisco Chronicle

Checking in with Max, the dog mayor of Idyllwild. It’s been a busy few weeks for California’s only canine mayor. Max is still meeting constituents and visitors in private house calls, which can be scheduled through his chief of staff. On a recent visit to Idyllwild, the human mayor of West Hollywood met with Max and presented him with an official certificate of recognition for “being a very good boy,” among other things. Idyllwild Town Crier

A poem to start your Wednesday: “The Descent of Man” by Vijay Seshadri.

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Los Angeles: unrelenting sunshine, 86. San Diego: sunny, 81. San Francisco: sunny, 75. San Jose: sunny, 82. Fresno: sunny, 84. Sacramento: still sunny, 81.


Today’s California memory comes from Bill Swagerty:

My cousin lived in a rambling farmhouse on well water in Stockton. I noticed when the pump kicked in. They didn’t hear it anymore. The bathroom floor tilted like a carnival fun house, and it had a unique smell the way babies have that “baby smell.” There was no A/C, but the sofa I slept on was under an open window with the sound of crickets and the water pump. To this day, if we sleep with the windows open, I think back to that carefree time and how comforting it was to fall asleep to those sounds.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.