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What Northridge teachers will tell their students about the new Porter Ranch kids

Northridge Middle School teachers are sure their students will have questions about the 1,100 new kids who will show up on their campus on Tuesday.

There are about 800 Northridge Middle School students, and they’ll be outnumbered by the kindergarten through eighth-grade students from Porter Ranch Community School who are moving because of the Aliso Canyon gas leak.

The entire campus got a face-lift in preparation for the new students, but many of the Porter Ranch students will be in new portable classrooms, called bungalows.

Phyliss Molo, a sixth-grade math and science teacher at Northridge, doesn’t want her students to “feel neglected” upon seeing the upgrades.

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She plans to set aside class time to ask students what they’ve heard, and what they think of the new situation. “And then we’ll have a discussion about it,” she said. She plans to tell them to treat the new students like visitors — extended visitors who might be around for a few months or an entire semester, but visitors to be respected.

Molo noticed that the outside of her door had been painted, and there were some new plants around campus. But in the southern part of the school that has been fenced off for Porter Ranch Community School students, full of new brown bungalows and potted plants, things look different.

The basketball hoops on the asphalt that Northridge Middle School students use are old, white backboards, with nets of chain, some falling off the rims. The lines on the court are faded. In the Porter Ranch area, the basketball hoops sport blue painted backboards and white mesh nets so new that the bottoms cling together.  

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It’s possible that the district has plans to replace the old hoops, Molo said, and her school and classroom are up to date — the teal paint looks fresh on her cabinets and bookshelves, she has an interactive Smart Board between her two whiteboards, and she pulled a Mac desktop computer out of her cabinet to prepare for Tuesday.

But Molo is afraid that her students, many of whom come from working-class families in contrast to the more affluent Porter Ranch families, will see these new amenities and think they are less than their peers.

“What prevented the district from improving our school before the Porter Ranch kids came?” Molo said.

One element that Molo thinks will unify the two campuses and their students is their uniforms — both students wear uniforms of the same color.

Kids get over the shock of new situations quickly, she added. They’ll be over it and making friends within a day.

Sixth-grade special education teacher Ana Ontiveros anticipated the questions she’d get from her students. Like Molo, she’ll set aside some time at the beginning of class for her students to ask whatever they want.

She thinks her students will ask who the new kids are, why they’re on campus and how long they’ll stay. She’ll answer those questions and allow for any others, but doesn’t want to spend more than five or 10 minutes on the topic.

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She’ll also point out that these new students are from a different school, but they don’t live that far away, and they probably have the same interests, Ontiveros said.

“I think we’re going to mix two different groups of kids from two different socioeconomic backgrounds, which is great,” Ontiveros said.

She’s also a parent. Her eighth-grade son attends Northridge Middle, and has friends from church who attend Porter Ranch Community School. He’s excited to see his friends, she said, and thinks he’s bound to make new ones.

As a parent, her biggest concern is the traffic, which is already bad in the mornings, she said.

Some teachers might need a more specific approach. Rosa Varelo teaches high-functioning students who have autism at Northridge Middle School, and said some of them might become overwhelmed by all the new students.

She plans to explain that there are going to be more students on campus, and they may be affected when they’re outside the classroom. “It can be a lot of input,” Varelo said.

She doesn’t plan to elaborate on the gas leak, she said — that might be too scary for them to think about.

Twitter: @Sonali_Kohli

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